Vanity Fair (2004)

Genre(s): Drama / Romance
Universal || PG13 - 137 minutes - $19.98 || February 1, 2005
Reviewer: Elyusha Vafaeisefat || Posted On: 2005-02-07

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

A U D I O &
.:: V I D E O ::.

Audio and Video

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Mira Nair
Writer(s): William Makepeace Thackeray (novel), Matthew Faulk (screenplay) & Mark Skeet (screenplay) and Julian Fellowes (screenplay)
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Eileen Atkins, Jim Broadbent, Gabriel Byrne, Bob Hoskins

Theatrical Release Date: September 1, 2004

Supplemental Material:
  • Director Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Welcome to Vanity Fair Featurette
  • The Women of Vanity Fair Featurette

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English

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.::THE FILM::.

Vanity Fair is the latest adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's popular 19th century novel. Mira Nair, one of the best female directors in the world, takes on the task of bringing this novel to life. Nair has made a name for herself in Bollywood and Vanity Fair marks her first big Hollywood film. Reese Witherspoon stars as Becky Sharp, a poor girl who wants nothing more than to rise up in the world and be someone at any cost. Witherspoon does her best with trying to do an English accent and bring Sharp's character to life. I have not read the novel, but from what I understand, her character is one of the most well known in the world of modern English literature. I must say that I enjoyed Witherspoon's performance very much in the film. She did a nice job with maintaining an English accent and nailed most of the rough emotional scenes. The rest of the supporting cast does a great job as well. Jim Broadbent, Gabriel Byrne, Romola Garai, Bob Hoskins, Rhys Ifans, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, James Purefoy and Geraldine McEwan all turn in great performances throughout the film.

The film itself is quite beautiful to look at. Director Mira Nair does a remarkable job with integrating so many colors and bringing life to the characters and sets. It is clear that Nair's Bollywood background is the main reason behind these beautiful colors and lavish set designs. Most Bollywood films I've seen have extremely high production values and are just simply beautiful to look at. In Vanity Fair, the costumes themselves seem to be like a supporting actor, thanks to the great work by costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor. Declan Quinn's cinematography is equally as notable too. I also liked Mychael Danna's score for the film as well. From a technical standpoint, the film is one of the best of 2004. However, the story (which is most important to me) felt very weak. As I mentioned previously, I enjoyed all the performances in the film, but I just didn't care what happened to them during the course of the film. Again, I haven't read the novel itself, so I do not know if this adaptation is at all accurate or if Nair took some artistic license in changing some things. Another facet of the story I did not like was that it was too "soap opera-ish." By that I mean that there was too much melodrama (common in many Bollywood films) when there wasnít any need for it. From what Iíve read and heard from those who have read the novel is that the story itself was very popular during the 19th century because it was like a soap opera and the fact that it had all the elements we see in modern day soap opera's as well. Things like betrayal, lust for money, infidelity, and of course vanity. From what I understand, the Becky Sharp character is supposed to be much more of a schemer and not as likeable as Nair made her interpretation of Becky Sharp seem at the end. So I think the changing of Becky Sharp's character could have affected the story's message overall.

The film certainly had potential to be much better, but in the end, it seems to be poorly executed from a storytelling standpoint. All the elements were there for the film to be much better. A great cast, a talented director and top notch production value, but the film lacks the most important attribute of a great film, a strong screenplay or story. The film reminded me a great deal of the recent film adaptation of the novel The Four Feathers. Like Vanity Fair, The Four Feathers had great costume designs, sets, good cast, good score and a very talented Indian director in Shekhar Kapur. I did enjoy Vanity Fair slightly more, but both films seem to suffer from weak adaptations of the screenplay in favor of high production values. In the end, Vanity Fair is not entirely a miss thanks to some great performances and great production value, but one could only wish that a stronger screenplay would have existed for a stronger more engaging story.


The special features on the DVD are predominantly weak. The commentary by Nair is a good one for the most part. The commentary is off and on, meaning that she'll talk for 5 or 6 minutes about the film and then will be silent for 4 or 5 minutes after. Nevertheless, she discusses the influences of the novel in the film as well as her own interpretations of what she thinks certain themes in the film are. Nair also discusses certain cameras used in various scenes as well as the metaphors of life and death she uses during the course of the film.

The DVD also includes a set of 7 deleted/extended scenes which runs about 14 minutes. I didn't find any of the deleted scenes to be anything fascinating except for the last one, which is titled "Alternate Ending." It runs about 6 minutes long and is actually a very good scene. I am not sure if Nair intended it to be the final ending, but I did think the scene was executed very well. I would talk a little more about the scene itself, but I donít want to spoil it for those who have not seen the film yet.

The next extra is Welcome to Vanity Fair which runs about 11 minutes. It's nothing more than a short promotional behind the scenes extra. The cast and crew discuss what attracted them to the story and working with Mira Nair. They discuss the character of Becky Sharp and even compare her to Madonna in terms of her determination to move up the social ladder at any cost. They also mention that the character of Becky Sharp inspired the famous character of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind.

The Women Behind Vanity Fair is the last extra included in the DVD. It runs about 8 minutes long and is a discussion of the prominent role females played in the making of the film. It's really a very interesting extra because they start to discuss the new role of women in Hollywood as directors, producers and crew members. They open up a very important point, but the featurette is so short that they barely even get a chance to delve more into the topic. Had they gone deeper into this subject matter, I think they could have made a very interesting featurette which would have fit well with the theme of the film.


The transfer on the film is quite beautiful to look at. Because the film has so many dazzling and beautiful colors, a great video transfer was most definitely needed. The colors come off very vibrant and striking. The audio transfer is a good one as well. Mychael Danna's score comes off very well and the overall sound of the film is very good.


Overall, the DVD and the film seem to be quite disappointing. It seems like such a waste of a talented group of actors and production crew as well. As I mentioned prior, the sets, costumes, score and acting are all wonderful. Reese Witherspoon does her best with the material that she was given and turns in a good performance. However, the film falls short in telling a good story, which should be the main goal of all films. The extras are pretty average for the most part as well. I did like the commentary, 1 of the deleted scenes and the overall idea of the "Women of Vanity Fair" featurette, but in the end, the extras seemed like promotional material for the most part.