Vanity Fair (1998)

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Director: Marc Munden

Writer: William Makepeace Thackeray (novel), Andrew Davies (screenplay)

Cast: Natasha Little, Frances Grey, Philip Glenister, Nathaniel Parker, Jeremy Swift, Tom Ward

Synopsis: Becky Sharp is "poor and put-upon." She's also "a sharp little minx," a "treacherous little trollop," and "a heartless mother and faithless wife." Yes, there's something about Becky in this impeccable BBC production based on William Makepeace Thackeray's classic novel.

It speaks volumes about Thackeray's indomitable heroine and Natasha Little's seductively ingratiating performance that our hearts go out to her even as we eagerly await her comeuppance. Becky is scorned for her lack of breeding, but as one admirer notes, "she's got pluck." Poised to begin her new job as a governess, Becky's calculated social climbing begins in the home of her friend, the naive Amelia Sedley (Frances Grey), whose father is a wealthy merchant. She immediately makes a play for Amelia's doofus brother, but their budding romance is sabotaged by Amelia's fiancÚ George Osborne (Tom Ward), an "interfering, officious snob" who doesn't fancy a governess for a sister-in-law.

And so it's out into the world, where Becky works her wiles on a gallery of memorable characters, including her lecherous new employer Sir Pitt; his imperious rich sister Miss Crawley (Miriam Margolyes), who takes Becky under her wing; and Pitt's dashing son Rawdon (Nathanial Perker), the first of Becky's misguided sexual entanglements. Vanity Fair charts in lavish detail Becky's rise in London society and her scandalous downfall. Her story is counterpoint to that of the fair Amelia, who is clueless that her husband is a rake and that his best friend, the loyal, long-suffering Dobbin (Philip Glenistar), is in love with her and is her secret benefactor when times get bad for her bankrupt father. Adapted for the screen by Andrew Davies, who did the honors for the phenomenally successful Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair is another addictive miniseries that is the video equivalent of a compulsive page-turner.

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