Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vanity Fair - Film vs Miniseries

Vanity Fair BBC miniseries 1998 wins!
OK, I have given it away right here at the beginning...the 1998 BBC miniseries with Natasha Little, Nathaniel Parker and Philip Glenister is hands down the winner. I am betting that although many of you likely saw the 2004 film version with Reese Witherspoon, not many of you likely saw my winner (or read the amazing novel by William Makepeace Thackaray). I never would have read the novel if it hadn't been for the miniseries with the screenplay written by my hero, Andrew Davies, and with the captivating and mesmerizing Natasha Little in the title role. Mira Nair and Reese Witherspoon did their level best, but no contest between these two versions.
Natasha Little as Becky Sharp and Frances Grey as Amelia Sedley in Vanity Fair
Natasha Little does a fantastic job of playing the woman that other women love to hate, Becky Sharp. She is gorgeous, charming, cunning and ruthlessly manipulative, which is what she needs to be to climb that difficult social ladder in 19th century London. Frances Grey is also great as the unbelievably sweet and incredibly doting Amelia. They are both exactly as they should be.
Nathaniel Parker as Rawdon Crawley in Vanity Fair
Nathaniel Parker is spot on as Becky's husband the empty headed Calvary Officer Rawdon Crawley but the one you'll really fall for in this version is Philip Glenister as Dobbin.
Philip Glenister as William Dobbin in Vanity Fair
Philip Glenister will steal your heart as the tall, ungainly and supposedly plain William Dobbin, who is loyal to George Osborne and in love with Amelia Sedley until the bitter end. Stupid, stupid Amelia. You'll want to shake her little blond head and then run off with Dobbin yourself!!!!

Vanity Fair 2004 with Reese Witherspoon
The 2004 film version directed by Mira Nair is ambitious to try to cram this wonderful novel into 141 minutes. Well....good try, but not quite. Too much plot to condense and it loses something in the process.  Not surprisingly, Mira Nair gives her version an exotic, Indian twist, which is fair enough considering that the character of Jos Sedley as a successful Nabob in India was likely part of the draw for her.  It is gorgeously filmed and a feast for the eyes, which is probably enough to get me to watch it again if only for the costumes and locations.
James Purefoy as Rawdon Crawley and Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair

I will say that James Purefoy is quite sufficiently yummy as Captain Crawley.  Mmmm, mmmm, good. Unfortunately Reese Witherspoon is a bit too likeable to really pull of the anti-heroine Becky Sharp. She is quite beautiful enough and nails the alluring, intelligent, talented part of her personality. She just doesn't make me buy the amoral, manipulative, insincere part which is really the entire point of the story.
Romola Garai as Amelia  Sedley and Rhys Ifans as William Dobbin in Vanity Fair
Romola Garai who I usually love, does her best here but has to work fast to develop her character. And although he may have done a good job here, to me Rhys Ifans will forever be the goofy roommate Spike from Notting Hill running around in his underwear.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Rhys Ifans and James Purefoy in Vanity Fair
I didn't really like Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrayal of the selfish, vain George Sedley, although maybe he played it so well that I just hated the character. Or maybe I just hated the fact that he had too much 20th century hair gel going on????

In any case, if you haven't seen the 1998 BBC miniseries then you are in for a treat. And if you, like me, bought the Reese Witherspoon version, watch it again for the visual feast. And if you are tempted to read the novel, I believe it is one of the best novels I have ever read, even if it doesn't end as happily as one might like.

By the way, thanks to Charleybrown from Enchanted Serenity of Period Films for her wonderful lists of Georgian, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian films which have reminded me of many I want to see again, and many I have yet to see.

P.S. The music score of the 1998 Natasha Little version IS a travesty. Please try to ignore it and enjoy the acting. It's really in need of re-scoring but I'm sure it would be too expensive.


  1. I've not read the book yet but have seen both the adaptations and agree the mini-series is much better. Frances Grey is the perfect Amelia, Nathaniel Parker both mischievous and shallow while still managing to make you feel his pain his marriage with Becky falls apart, you can really see how devoted he was to her. And of course Phillip Glennster is wonderful! I love the scene when he comes in and hits the helmet on the low lamp, it's perfect for Dobbin and his steady goodness and love for Amelia is what I thought really made the series.

  2. Hi Katherine,

    Glad you liked the miniseries too. I hope we convince some other period drama lovers to give this one a chance. I was amazed that Natasha Little seemed to do all her own singing and piano playing too. She is one talented lady! I saw her on Spooks (MI5) as Vicki Westbrook and she really creeped me out in that role.

  3. I think Vanity Fair was my first period drama that I stumbled upon with which I wasn't thrilled. Not due to the lack of quality of the production but rather due to the lack of esteemable qualities of the heroine! I like my leading ladies to be less conniving and more saintly but that's just me! I've only watched the miniseries and haven't watched the film version.

    Thanks for the mention Jenny!

  4. Hi Cheryl,
    Yes Becky is not a likable leading lady is she? You wouldn't like the book either then because it is Thackaray and not Andrew Davies or the director or the actress that made her that way. They actually really nailed the book. You might like the film version better as they softened Becky's character for Reese Witherspoon so that you have a bit of sympathy for her.
    This is a very true adaptation of Thackaray's "Vanity Fair- a novel without a hero". I didn't like Becky, but I did find her fascinating!

  5. Wonderful review of a fabulous adaptation--I agree that Natasha Little absolutely nails Becky Sharp, and the rest of the casting is spot on as well. I watched this after Cranford, and so had already given my heart to Philip Glenister--that he played Dobbin was icing on the cake!

    I watched the Reese Witherspoon version on an airplane ride years ago, and will probably never attempt a rewatch.

    Absolutely love the book as well.

    Great job from JaneGS of Reading, Writing, Working, Playing (Blogger STILL won't let me comment!).

  6. Thanks so much Jane. The sad thing is that I own the Reese Witherspoon version but not the miniseries. I will rectify that situation very soon.

    Glad you like Philip Glenister too. He was adorable in both this one and in Cranford. He has also done a 1970s time travel tv series called Life on Mars (and sequel Ashes to Ashes) which I have not yet seen but I hear is amazing. Loved him as the photographer in Calendar Girls too!

    I hope blogger gets it's gremlins worked out soon. Very frustrating isn't it?

  7. You can't really compare a miniseries to a movie adaptation. It's just seems too unfair, considering the major differences in running time. All you can do is ask if both versions are entertaining in their own right.

  8. Hi Juanita

    Thanks for your comment. I absolutely agree that each production should be considered for what it is. I just really thought the Mira Nair version lost the point of Thackary's satire by making Becky so likeable.

    Shorter is actually sometimes better. I think most of us liked Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility better than Andrew Davies's longer version. I liked both, but if I could only have one it would be Emma's (much as I adore Andrew Davies).

    Thanks for stopping by. I checked out your blog and it's great!

  9. "I just hated the fact that he had too much 20th century hair gel going on????"說的真好,快笑死我啦~

  10. Hi Anonymous. Your comment translated as:

    "That's nice, fast killing me friends"

    LOL for Google Translate!

  11. Hi Jenny:

    I just watched the miniseries and I would have to agree. I liked it better than the film version. Becky was more likable in the film version, but I suspect the hard portrayal in the miniseries was more in tune with the book. I have the book, just need to find the time to read it.

  12. All you can do is ask if both versions are entertaining in their own right.

    I agree. And I happen to like both versions.

  13. ["I just really thought the Mira Nair version lost the point of Thackary's satire by making Becky so likeable. "]

    Only in the first half. The 2004 movie becomes darker and Becky becomes harder, as she and Rawdon endure financial difficulties in the movie's second half. It's odd that many people never notices this. In the end, the movie gave Becky a happier ending than the novel or the miniseries. But Becky still loses Rawdon.

    I do believe that the 1998 miniseries is better. But I cannot or will not dismiss the 2004 movie. It's still pretty good.

    1. Hi Rush Blog, sounds like I need to watch Nair's Vanity Fair again. It is gorgeous in any case and I own the DVD, so I'll look for the change in the second half this time. Thanks for the comment!




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