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Vanity Fair

September 11, 2010

Vanity Fair (2004)
Director: Mira Nair
Actors: Reese Witherspoon, James Purefoy, Romola Garai

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Synopsis: Plucky Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) endures through early 19th Century Britain.

Review: Cinematic adaptations of popular novels can often prove director-proof exercises. With narrative exposition being the prime driver – rather than the organic merging of stylistic and dramatic elements – the results can often be episodic and strangely unmoving, with all the major incidents and characters being ticked off without any actual ‘take’ on such events.

Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair is a classic case in point, with a lot of the film passing off as a series of narrative occurrences that seemed like they must have been more important on the page than they actually are on screen. Take for example the subplot about Jim Broadbent’s Mr Osborne continually undermining his son George (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), yet only being given about two seconds to effect a wholly unconvincing regretful weep at George’s graveside, before the narrative rattles on to the next set of characters. Equally confusing is Nair’s take on the Becky Sharp character that lies at the heart of the story. She seems content to rely on Witherspoon’s innate charisma, thereby placing Sharp as too obviously popular and sympathetic, when I’m sure the source novel made Sharp’s pluckiness and durability much more murky and problematic. Even Nair’s one attempt to stamp a personal element on proceedings – supplanting Indian motifs and sequences into the story at regular intervals – falls totally flat, shown up as the embarrassing wannabe auteur flourishes they are. (August 2010)

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