ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  mira nair

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  131 minutes

RELEASED  -  1 september 2004

DISTRIBUTOR  -  focus features

OFFICIAL SITE  -  vanity fair

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $23,000,000
vanity fair - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from vanity fair at

buy the dvd from vanity fair at

rowing up poor in london, becky sharp defies her poverty-stricken background and ascends the social ladder alongside her best friend, amelia.

after asking reese witherspoon to play pregnant for the role for a while, mira nair was delighted when witherspoon announced she was expecting after all.


picture from vanity fair

picture from vanity fair

picture from vanity fair

picture from vanity fair


three out of four possible stars

An ambitious and lush historical production, director Mira Nair's Vanity Fair is a film with many charms and few detractors. Sporting an intricate and creative visual style the film is equally as beautiful as it is engaging. The stunning visuals in the film regarding costuming, set decoration, and set design are made all the more impressive by the film's small budget of twenty-three million dollars. Often made to deal with restrictive budgets, costume dramas (and their expensive wardrobes) are put under an immense amount of pressure given their task of creating a world that no longer exists.

A variety of different visual styles not often seen in a costume drama infuse Vanity Fair with more life and breath than the usual serene countenance of a historical film. Nair's design team seems to have spent an immense amount of time at the drawing boards, because the fashions, furniture, and hairstyles are enough in and of themselves to keep one's interest for nearly the entire duration of this film. While the running time might push the limits of some viewers' patience, most audience members will probably be forgiving given the genre of the film and the propensity of like films to have similar issues with time management.

It is probably to the film's great benefit that such an engaging and diverse cast was composed for the movie, as the running time becomes only the mildest concern once lead star Reece Witherspoon and her co-stars fill the screen with their beautiful faces and accomplished theatrical skills. Witherspoon has dipped her talent into more than one different genre and with each new project she takes, she continuously improves her dramatic (and comedic, when needed) range. As the relentlessly social-climbing "Becky Sharp," Witherspoon easily straddles the boundary between sympathetic and coldhearted. Her actions throughout the film (whose screenplay remains somewhat faithful to the events of William Makepeace Thackeray's 1847 serial novel of the same name).

Born in Calcutta, novelist Thackeray was a gentlemen by birth who had been forced to make a living as a writer after a severe financial setback. His ability to satirize the English aristocracy was best displayed in Vanity Fair and screenwriters Matthew Faulk, Julian Fellowes, and Mark Skeet have translated much of that wit and irony to the screen story. Although readers of the book will notice some vivid and memorable scenes missing from the film, the film is still a complete story and does justice to Thackeray's story. The screenwriters should be congratulated on the impressive amount of story they seemed able to fit into the film(though perhaps the editor should receive some of that credit as well).

For all it's lengthy running time, the film is still an exercise in a swiftly moving and loaded plot. And regarding the plot, it is to the audience's benefit to keep a sharp eye on the screen, as those who are not familiar with the book might find the plot too thick for simple, casual viewing. It is fortunate, perhaps, the Nair has inserted into the film a few well-timed musical interludes, each infused with the smell and taste of India (her home country). There is an East Indian presence throughout the entire film, and it might be this "angle" that gives the film such a unique look.

Certainly the colors and sounds of the film resemble the cacophony of what an outsider's view of Indian culture looks like, giving the picture a much more vivid and unique tangible style than the standard costume drama. The look and environment of the film is almost a character in the story, so vivid are the costumes and set decorations. And this is a definite bonus to the film's fine cast listing. Rhys Ifans owns one of the most surprising performances, as his most notable character to date has been the insane head-case of a roommate, "Spike," that he played in 1999's Notting Hill. In Vanity Fair, he presents a much different face, and he makes an impressive display of dramatic abilities.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, a veteran of several independent films, shows another impressive performance in the film with some of his character's interest being delivered by his hair-stylist. Never in any costume drama has so much spiky hair been bandied about. But Rhys-Meyers is more than just a hairstyle and shows a depth in his performance as one of Witherspoon's many adversaries, that is skilled for a young actor. Playing Witherspoon's best friend and unfortunate, "Amelia," newcomer Romola Garai can notch another performance success in her belt, displaying more intelligence in front of the camera than in any of her previous films.

James Purefoy, having appeared before in a variety of feature film genres, performs well as Witherspoon's husband, under Nair's sensuous direction. Intense and angry, Purefoy's "Rawdon Crawley" is a worthy sparring partner for Witherspoon's demanding performance. And in considering Witherspoon's lead role, one can easily see that much of the picture's success is due to her outstanding performance. Not only does she pack a one-two punch as far as heavy dramatics are concerned (she lets out an ear-splitting scream certain to blow out more than one set of theater speakers), but she also sprinkles the character with humor and likeability.

Witherspoon's task was a difficult one, but it's nothing short of amazing how easily she fills the shoes of this commanding role. Also making a strong presence for himself is Gabriel Byrne who plays the mysterious and dark, "Marquess of Steyne." Viewers will be kept guessing for most of the film as to where the character's temperament falls (is he a villain or a saint?).

The production values in this film are without fault and are certainly one of the highlights of the film. But adding greatly to the visual style's success is the musical score. Composer Mychael Danna's cues are and are deftly inserted into the film without an ounce of the overbearing drama so common in period films. Vanity Fair is a beautiful film in both its design and personality and it is a stand-out among a class of more staid historical productions. Fans of the novel should enjoy this elegant film, which is aided greatly by a strong cast and crew.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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