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?
saw it. liked it. agree more time allowed for better story. I enjoyed the costumes and the hair.
I’m kind of disappointed that they didn’t do a full on 1810s Silly Court Dress (although I can’t remember if Becky gets presented at the British Court or an European Court, which would make more sense for this court dress design.)
Seriously, I’d LOVE to see a film really tackle the realities of the freaking insane and frankly fabulously hideously ugly and so many levels of wrong pre-1820 British Court attire, with the huge hoops and high waist and ludicrous curtain drapery. There are some brilliant reconstructions out there….
The problem is they’d have to make them for all the extras too, which would be cost-prohibitive for most productions.
This is true, although I kind of think it would be easy enough to fudge, given that most of them look like draped fabric dumped on top of panniers tied under the bust….
That would have been fabulous! And yes, she’s presented at the British court.
Surely that is not Olivia Coleman playing Becky but rather Olivia Cooke, no?
ZLKNAD;LKFNA;DLKF. I did that later in the post and fixed it, the names are so close! Fixing it!
I’m on the last episode and am really enjoying it. I’ve seen the film versions with Reese Witherspoon and Myrna Loy and hated both.
I think it should be a rule at this point that if an actress makes a complaint about her corset, the movie loses 10 points.
YES! And I generally love Olivia Cooke, but sheesh, this is just so irritating. Corsets are NOT that bad!
I very much enjoyed the series!
According to the top picture, Olivia Cooke would have been more comfortable if she wasn’t trying to slouch in a busked corset.
Gotta see it for the use of Kerby clips alone.
I actually liked the Reese Witherspoon version as it gave Becky a happy ending which I believe (it’s been eons since I read the novel) the novel hints at.
No wonder she was uncomfortable and lost weight if she didn’t eat the whole time she was in her corset, especially if it was for 12-13 hours at a time! I once skipped eating before a performance of a play in college where I wore a corset and I felt like I was about to faint. I learned my lesson and ate and stayed hydrated and felt fine every other performance.
Also like… if you can’t eat as much in one go as you’d like, just eat snacks all day lol. There are options ladies.
I’m about 5 episodes in and loving it. It’s so tongue in cheek cheeky and funny, while Becky is a scheming manipulator but always, ALWAYS fabulous. I admire her ability to survive and adapt even if I don’t like her tactics all the time. (She’s certainly better than that simpering “friend” of hers mooning after a dead louse rather than realizing there’s a perfectly decent fellow madly in love with her on the sidelines. Yes, Amelia. I mean you. :P)
I’ve seen the Witherspoon version, but so far am enjoying how much more delightfully wicked this Becky is — Reese’s had to be more likable, this one is just… terrifically mean. ;)
I enjoyed this series (though I screamed at Becky for wearing that low-cut, bare-armed green dress during the daytime), but my favorite is still the 1998 miniseries with Natasha Little as Becky. This one felt a little too nice, especially Becky’s relationship with Steyne. But it was refreshing to see the women wear their hair up!
It looks like that cream/pale yellow dress with silver bodice and sleeve details (the photo where Becky is holding a big bunch of lilies and roses) was inspired by this portrait, maybe? https://fi.pinterest.com/pin/562527809683642307/
How can you credit Tony Head and not mention he was Uther Pendragon in Merlin? (Also the gorgeous Giles in Buffy, but that’s not period costume, so I’ll let you off.)
Here, here! Anthony Stewart Head will forever be Giles to me. Um…the 90’s…that’s a “period” now, isn’t it?
Jmo but if you are forced to wear a corset as many women were at the time, it might not seem as bearable as wearing one by choice. But I never like to hear the whining, considering the prestige etc of being in period drama production…at least to me, there is prestige.