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Vanity Fair
2004 - PG-13 - 137 Mins.
Director: Mira Nair
Producer: Janette Day
Written By: Julian Fellowes, Mark Skeet, Matthew Faulk, William Makepeace Thackeray
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy, Romola Garai, Bob Hoskins, Gabriel Byrne, Eileen Atkins
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site:
Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) is a self-described “social climber” after being born into poverty to a mother who was an opera singer and a talented but struggling artist father. She grows up into a snappy young woman who quickly acquires a job as a governess to a good-natured man of wealth named Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins). He also happens to have a dashing son, Rawdon (James Purefoy), whom she tries to win over as a way of marrying into wealth. Meanwhile, Becky also has to deal with Matilda Crawley (Eileen Atkins), Pitt’s constantly scheming sister. Becky stays in contact with childhood friend Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai), who's not as privy to good fortune as our Becky. There is also the ever encroaching war to worry about, something Rawdon frets over as he is a soldier.

Based on the William Makepeace Thackeray novel of the same name, Mira Nair’s ‘Vanity Fair’ is a far too elongated film that nonetheless suffers from shoddily developed supporting characters, despite various actors giving it their all. The film plods from one plot development to another without ever really engaging the viewer with any regularity. In trying to fit every single plot point from the over 900 page novel, the trio of screenwriters doesn’t allow any depth to the characters aside from Becky, who is our vessel for the journey that spans multiple continents and decades of time. Hence, we aren’t given the chance to care about the fates of the other characters, a key facet to an epic film like this.

The film also struggles with its relatively predictable nature, even if one hasn’t read the far more entertaining novel. The problem is that, after a while, we get to know Becky, her behavior and thinking patterns to the point that it doesn’t take much for one to deduce what is going to transpire next.

The film does have a few good qualities though. The production and costume design is superb, the cinematography always gorgeous, and even the acting is, for the most part, quite good. As the conniving Becky, Witherspoon gives a surprisingly adept performance despite her real-life pregnancy having to be hidden throughout the second half of the film. As Pitt Crawley, Bob Hoskins is simply grand; expertly mixing humor and gravitas. James Purefoy gives a solid performance as the ambitious Rawdon. Eileen Atkins lends a wry sense of humor to her scenes as Matilda Crawley. The weakest link has to be Romola Garai, who never emotes much beyond a sadness that never once looks convincing. After actually bringing warmth to her naive character in ‘Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights’ Garai’s performance here is especially disappointing.

In the end, ‘Vanity Fair’ really can only be recommended to fans of any member of the cast because purists of the novel will undoubtedly be upset at the nature of the film adaptation’s plot trajectory while others will find themselves just plain bored much of the time.
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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