Vanity Fair is the story of Becky Sharp (Reece Witherspoon), an alluring and determined beauty who aims to climb the British social ladder despite her impoverished origins. Becky and her best friend Amelia’s (Romola Garai) first scheme of matchmaking falls sort, but Becky’s prospects look up when she takes employment at Crawley Hall for Sir Pitt (Bob Hoskins). Becky eventually marries Pitt’s second son, Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy). The rest of the two heronines journey is full of broken hearts, war, death and a sentimental ending that was not in the original novel.
The 1828 novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray is a colossal 900 pages. Adapting this beloved novel into a hollywood film is no easy task. Directed by Mira Nair, Vanity Fair is an admirable attempt of transferring novel to screen, which succeeds on almost every level. The great disappointment in this magnificently looking film is the treatment of the iconic character Becky Sharp. In the original novel, Becky was a resilient, razor tongued vixen attempting to climb the ranks in British society. While Witherspoon is an appealing actress, and she certainly proves she is up to the task of playing Miss Sharp, this film version of Vanity Fair paints Becky Sharp as an innocent and sympathetic character.
|"I had thought her a mere social climber. I see now she’s a mountaineer."|
What sets Vanity Fair apart from similar literary based films of the past few years is the world of Vanity Fair is not populated by nice people. Characters are flawed, mean and everything does not end “happily ever after,” although the film has unwisely concluded with a wedding which the novel did not.
I have read Vanity Fair four times, the first when I was sixteen. It is a big, absorbing story reliant on the reader’s interest in the character of Becky Sharp. I always liked Becky, even with all her flaws, and while the film retains some of the sinfulness of Becky, overall the character is a little muted and drained of her wickedness.
Vanity Fair is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen and is 16:9 enhanced. It’s a nice looking picture with natural fleshtones and the deep reds and browns of the costumes vibrant with no color bleeding visible.
Sharpness and detail are good, but small object detail is less satisfactory, with long shots of faces particularly grainy. Thankfully, the visual transfer is free of film artefacts and aliasing, although edge enhancement is obvious in some scenes.
A major problem is the overall softness of the film. Unfortunately, the softness does become distracting and paired with a very heavy contrast, makes the overall video transfer a little disappointing.
An impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack presenting clear and audible dialogue and a beautiful Mychael Danna score. Surround is only used subtely for atmosphere and to showcase the gorgeous score. Directionality and sound separation are utilised well and only enhance the overall audio mix.
While the film doesn't offer the subwoofer any kind of workout, the score and dialogue couldn't sound better and the balance between the two is very impressive.
Indian Born director Mira Nair has certainly brought her ‘bollywood’ visuals and precise direction to the table and enriched a classic, beloved story. The film looks and sounds great on DVD, but the muted characterisation of Becky harms the overall success of the film.