Yep, there’s a new Vanity Fair in the works — a TV miniseries being produced by ITV and set to come out next year. It seems like a good time to do a round-up on the major film/TV adaptations, and look at the one that’s coming out soon, so we can ask the proverbial question: do we need yet another adaptation of this classic novel?
Vanity Fair: The Original Novel
The novel was written by William Makepeace Thackeray and published as a serial from 1847-48. The title is a reference to Bunyan’s novel Pilgrim’s Progress, in which the pilgrim visits a town holding a neverending fair that represents the sin of being attached to worldly goods.
The time period is very obvious, since the Battle of Waterloo (1815) is a key event about halfway through the novel.
The lead character is Becky (Rebecca) Sharp, the consummate anti-heroine long before Scarlett O’Hara. Her mother was an opera girl, her father was a poor painter. When her father dies, she ends up teaching French in a finishing school, where she meets Amelia Sedley, daughter of a rich merchant. The two girls’ lives intertwine from then on. The plot is waaaay too convoluted to summarize here, but know that Amelia is sweetness personified, falls in love with a jerk, her family loses all her money, and in the end she finally finds love. Meanwhile Becky starts off scrappy and poor, marries and causes her husband (Rawdon) to lose his inheritance, gets involved with a married aristocrat and screws that (and her marriage) up, and finally in the end makes good financially. The key thing to keep in mind is her character really is heartless — she’s after position and money, and she doesn’t care who she crawls over to get it. She’s also a prime manipulator.
Becky Sharp (1935), film
This is the Cliffs Notes version — it hits the highlights of the story but skips much of the detail. It’s mostly notable for being the first full-color feature film. The tone is very comic.
Vanity Fair (1967), TV miniseries
The first of many BBC miniseries, and the first of their drama serials to be shot in color. I haven’t seen it myself, but I can tell you it’s gotten (two whole) positive reviews over on IMDB.
Vanity Fair (1987), TV miniseries
Another BBC miniseries, another I haven’t seen. According to at least one IMDB reviewer, this is the most faithful to the novel of all the adaptations.
Vanity Fair (1998), TV miniseries
Finally, another I’ve seen! I would say this is actually a great adaptation — good casting, stays close to the original story, the costumes are one of the many well-done 1990s Regency’s — except for the music. Oh god, the music. I did finally manage to watch this on my third try, but tries one and two were aborted because of the music.
Vanity Fair (2004), film
This adaptation was directed by Indian director Mira Nair, and she put a definite Indian spin on things … which actually worked really well! She also chose to try to humanize Becky, so she’s a bit more of a sympathetic character. Although purists may quibble with that decision, I thought it brought some depth and dimension to the film … and I loved the stylized, Indian-influenced costumes.
Vanity Fair (2018), TV miniseries
And now we come to the current production — a TV miniseries being filmed by ITV (with Amazon Studios; it will air on Amazon Prime in the U.S.). The series is being written by Gwyneth Hughes, who did the screenplays for Miss Austen Regrets (2008) and Dark Angel (2016).
Other important cast members include MICHAEL FRICKIN’ PALIN (Monty Python) as Thackeray himself (I guess there will be some narration?), Suranne Jones (The Crimson Field) as Miss Pinkerton, and Frances de la Tour (Yvette in The Collection 2016, Mother Hildegarde in Outlander, and Aunt Western in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling 1997) as the rich and elderly aunt Matilda Crawley.
The costume designer hasn’t yet been announced, but filming has begun in Budapest and London, and we have a teeny tiny peek at what’s coming:
What’s your favorite version of Vanity Fair?