Vanity Fair, A Timeless Tale

Based On The Sexiest Novel Of 1848

BY: Zak Wojnar

In 1848, Vanity Fair was published. Written by William Makepeace Thackeray, the novel (originally published as a 19-part serial) was a scathing indictment of self-perceived British exceptionalism, or at least their literary aspirations towards such, and is remembered as one of the greats of its era, a subversive tale about a desire for social mobility in a society which is so rooted in birthright over merit.

Vanity Fair has been adapted numerous times, from movies (with Reese Witherspoon!) to television (with Natasha Little!), and even radio (with Stephen Fry!). The latest take on the 170-year-old story is a seven-part miniseries. A collaboration between Amazon Studios and ITV, the British television network (on which the series has already aired) this new version of the story plays up its gender politics even more overtly than the original story.

Olivia Cooke has earned universal acclaim for her portrayal of lead character Becky Sharp, whose dastardly ambitions are more sympathetic than ever before. The original story was critical of the times in which it was set, and that criticism is even stronger in the 21st century. For all our talk of progressive values and equal rights for all, only a fraction of the western world’s CEOs and political leaders are women, and those who do express ambition and a desire to shine above their station are immediately lambasted as arrogant shrews or – the old standby – bitches. That’s why this story remains so relevant, even all these years later.

The supporting cast includes Claudia Jessie as Amelia, musician Johnny Flynn as Dobbin, and Monte Python‘s Michael Palin as the narrator. It’s not as high-profile a cast as some other shows, but everyone is game to bring their best to period drama, wearing beautiful costumes and less beautiful wigs while working their way through deliciously British dialogue. What’s old (or olde?) is new again, and – for better or worse – Vanity Fair has lost none of its wit, relevance, or entertainment value in the last 140 years.

Vanity Fair premieres December 21 on Amazon Prime.