Adding to their repertoire of originals, the latest period drama Amazon Prime produces is Vanity Fair. A story I’m unfamiliar with unless you count the 2004 major motion picture, this is certainly a unique period drama that borrows from other popular period dramas.
Vanity Fair (2018) Amazon Prime Review
Whatever Becky Sharp (Olivia Cooke) wants, she gets. Despite her reduced circumstances, she knows how to adapt to any setting, and play up to whomever she needs something from. Post finishing school, her next step up is beside Amelia (Claudia Jesse), the only girl who befriends her. While lodging with the family, she comes oh-so-close to extracting a proposal from Amelia’s elder socially inept brother. Until she doesn’t. But Becky won’t be reduced, so she picks herself up and leaves for the governess position her former schoolmistress arranges.
Once there, she meets Rowen (Tom Bateman), a handsome soldier who has the misfortune of being the younger son. But the situation brightens when Becky learns it’s Rowen whom his wealthy and childless aunt (Frances de la Tour) adores. With her plans set in motion, Becky sets about winning not just Rowen, but also the attention of British society!
Warning! Spoilers follow
When it comes to period dramas, I’m not a fan of stories that are darker, and certainly not those that end with the characters miserable. Nonetheless, I risked my vague memories of this one (although I was sure no one was happy by story’s end), and settled in to watch Amazon’s 7-part series.
To say this is anything but a unique production is selling it short. This is produced very well, and if you get past its jarring open, it settles into its pace. The vision for this one is a kind of juxtapose of genres and elements. On the surface, it’s an 1800s period drama, but look and listen closely and you’ll see, it’s influenced by modern art. From the music to the architecture, and styling of the gowns (color, details), it all has modern influences. Still, this doesn’t make it any less pretty.
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One thing is for certain, if the filming doesn’t bother you, then Vanity Fair will linger with you long after its final credit. It certainly has me. Inside this world we meet a series of characters who make mischief and misery for themselves. Despite their circumstances, which are also unpleasant, they create misery which in turn almost makes us miserable. Cleverly, this series builds to this point very slowly, so it’s almost as if we don’t realize this.
I won’t argue the fact that even with its mixed genres and styles, this is a visual treat. Everything about it “pops” with color and the energy its cast infuses these characters with. Despite themes, this really is more of a satire comedy than serious period drama. What I had forgotten about the story is the fact that one (or none?) of the characters doesn’t end up happy. I was sure they did, but in this version, this character is anything but. This actually pains me because I don’t for one moment believe their perception of the situation is accurate. Instead I wonder, do they feel this way because they don’t believe they’re worthy?
Told by its author, William Thackeray, even with its serious themes (like the tragedy of the Waterloo battle), this series retains its tongue and cheek aptitude. Right down to its final words, and the image it leaves us with. It helps to see the writer’s break free from the traditional mold and gives us some sense that maybe some of these characters will find contentment if not bliss. Olivia is also brilliant in her playful nature which is really directed at us the audience rather than a character trait.
Vanity Fair might not ever become my favorite period piece, but it’s visually stunning with a cast of newcomers, all of whom are talented. If you like this era, or the 2004 motion picture with Reese Witherspoon, I think you’d enjoy watching this. There’s quality in its production, and if nothing else, it will certainly make you think long after that final seventh episode.
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Content: there is some minor sexual content, and a few battle scenes (where men die from battle wounds). The series earns a TV14 rating.
Photos: Amazon Prime / ITV