Yes, Virginia, there’s another Vanity Fair (2018) — this one made by British TV channel ITV and available for streaming in the US on Amazon Prime. Did we NEED this version? Probably not, given how many times this Thackeray novel has been adapted. But did I enjoy it nonetheless? I did! The storyline and characters stuck close to the novel, the actors were convincing, the costuming was relatively well done, and this is the only production I’ve seen to actually hint at the book’s real ending. Plus, with seven episodes, it was able to get into many of the twists and turns that are omitted in feature film adaptations.
The costumes were designed by Lucinda Wright (the 2003 Henry VIII with Helena Bonham Carter, Fanny Hill, New Worlds, and Jamestown) and Suzie Harman (The Death of Stalin, and the upcoming The Personal History of David Copperfield), and given that the story is so firmly set in time, with the 1815 Battle of Waterloo mid-way through, I felt that they did a good job keeping to a realistic Regency look — within reason.
The central characters are Becky (a poor social climber, played by Olivia Cooke from The Limehouse Golem) and Amelia (from a merchant-class family, played by Claudia Jessie). The two go through opposite transitions — Becky starts off in plain clothes in boring colors, then transitions to increasingly fabulous colors and styles as she rises in society, then when she falls at the end, she’s back to pale. Costume designer Wright told The Telegraph, “She changes her look to how she wants to be portrayed in society. She’s very cunning. People do wear a uniform, and I think they did then, but Becky is a chameleon of clothes. Even her funeral outfits were still huge hats, lovely shawls — she still had that flair. Even when she was meant to be in mourning, she would still cut a dash” (How Becky Sharp’s wardrobe in Vanity Fair reflects her social rise and fall). Meanwhile, Amelia’s family goes from well-off to poor, and her wardrobe similarly goes from bright and upscale to dull.
Becky’s hat game was On Point:
And, impressively, THEY MANAGED TO GET THE HAIR UP IN PERIOD STYLES!!
Other important characters include:
Designer Wright told The Telegraph, “In the early 19th century, there was a huge amount of etiquette around what you were allowed to wear. It would tell people what class you were, what your personality was like; it really spoke volumes. You would be shunned in society if you tried to overstep the mark” (How Becky Sharp’s wardrobe in Vanity Fair reflects her social rise and fall). Nonetheless, occasionally one of the younger women would wear short-sleeved gowns, without fichus or other fill-ins, for daywear:
And, despite the final piece of the movie being set in the mid-1820s, there was no fashion change to be seen on any of the female characters. Granted, Amelia has JUST come into money and Becky is totally down on her luck, but a little nod towards the structured 1820s would have been nice. The only nod to fashion change was in the coda, in which Becky wears this 1830s-style gown (reworn from Wives & Daughters):
Finally, there’s some of the proverbial corset whining that’s come out in the press. Olivia Cooke (Becky) complained:
“I wore a corset in a film I did called The Limehouse Golem. But not for a six-month shoot. No wonder women wanted to be liberated. The corset is so stifling. You are strapped in first thing in the morning and then you are on set for 13, 14 hours. It restricts your appetite as well. I lost so much weight. How did people wear those things every single day? They are so uncomfortable. Women had to wear so many bits and bobs. So much faff which all seems really redundant.” (Production Notes)
And according to costume designer Lucinda Wright:
“She didn’t bother eating while she had it on. Even though it fitted her perfectly. She said it was just easier.” (Vanity Fair: Secrets of racy new costume drama from makers of Poldark hotly tipped to be another rip-roaring hit)
Luckily Claudia Jessie (Amelia) seems to have gotten it:
“I feel like the corset does 70 percent of the work. You have so much regency because it really straightens you up.” (Production Notes)
Have you seen the new Vanity Fair?