Vanity Fair (Warner) (2004)

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Released 1-Feb-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Mira Nair (Director)
Deleted Scenes
Featurette-Welcome To Vanity Fair
Featurette-The Women Behind Vanity Fair
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 135:00
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (95:30) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Mira Nair

Warner Home Video
Starring Reese Witherspoon
Jim Broadbent
Gabriel Byrne
Bob Hoskins
Rhys Ifans
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers
Romola Garai
Eileen Atkins
James Purefoy
Tony Maudsley
Douglas Hodge
Case ?
RPI $29.95 Music Mychael Danna
Shankar Mahadevan
Loy Mendonsa

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis


'I knew she was a social climber, but she has proved herself a mountaineer'

    I remember struggling through (or not really reading all of) Jane Austen during my HSC year and deciding at the time that I hated period dramas and comedies with a passion. Time has softened my view but I certainly would not be found dead actually reading one. However, as you can see I don't mind watching them as movies now and again. Accordingly, I have never read Vanity Fair and I only really knew that it had a heroine called Becky Sharp before sitting down to watch this new movie version of the story. The story has been filmed about 10 times over the years, sometimes as a television mini-series and sometimes as a movie. In some ways I actually feel that not having read a book improves your ability to review a movie. It is then up to the moviemakers to tell you a story which makes sense and is entertaining, rather than you constantly trying to compare it to the book. I recently reviewed The Notebook, which included a commentary from the book's author in which he said that he understood that movies of his books would never tell exactly the same story as the novel. Obviously the author of Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray, who died in 1863 would not have considered this at the time of writing the novel in 1847 (which incidentally started life as a serial). Thackeray invented the word snob and in this book set out to skewer people who acted in such a way.

    Vanity Fair tells the story of a young girl, Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon), who early in life loses both her parents, one of whom was a struggling artist and the other who was a French opera chorus girl. The story is set in and around London starting in 1802. Once an orphan, Becky ends up in a girl's school, studying, but also doing work around the school such as cleaning and cooking. By the time she leaves the school she is a strong-willed, independent, scheming and ambitious girl. Despite this she is also a very likeable girl, who most people around her are attracted to, especially men. She leaves school with her best friend, Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai), and spends some time with her family before taking up a role as governess to the children of Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins). While spending time with Amelia's family, a quite well-to-do middle class family, she meets his brother Joss Sedley (Tony Maudsley), who wants to marry her and take her back to India with him, where he is in the civil service. Amelia is engaged to marry Capt George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who is a vain and selfish man. He is the son of a more successful merchant, John Osborne (Jim Broadbent). However, the man who really loves Amelia is George's best friend Captain William Dobbin (Rhys Ifans). Osborne threatens that he won't marry Amelia if Joss marries Becky, and effectively scares Joss into cutting off ties with Becky.

    Once Becky leaves London to take up her role at Queen's Crawley, Sir Pitt's run down estate, she meets more eligible men, including one slightly surprising one. She meets Sir Pitt's two sons, Pitt (Douglas Hodge) and Rawden (James Purefoy). Rawden comes to the house accompanying the aging sister of Sir Pitt, Miss Crawley (Eileen Atkins), a rich spinster who the entire family are trying to butter up. Miss Crawley takes a shine to Becky and decides that she will accompany her back to London, with Rawden. I won't spoil the rest of the story for people like me who have not read the book but suffice it to say that the quote at the beginning of this review is certainly true of Becky and she relentlessly pursues her social ambition to be counted amongst the good and great. She does this with significant success but not without personal cost, through war, marriages, wealth and penury. The only other important character who I have not mentioned at this stage is the Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne), a ruthless and quite unlikeable character who bought a painting from Becky's father when she was a little girl and lives next door to Miss Crawley. He comes back into her life, which both helps her social standing and hinders her personal life.

    This film has a very light tone, which makes it enjoyable viewing even for those not of a literary bent. Obviously if your film diet only extends to action blockbusters or gross-out comedies this is not a film for you but most other filmgoers should find some things to enjoy in this film. The production is very lush and some of the costumes even border on the garish, although this would seem to be taken directly from the book. When I watched the film I thought the costume designer had gotten a little carried away, especially with Joss Sedley, although during the commentary by Mira Nair (the director) she reveals that his costumes were described in great detail in the book. Mira Nair, who was the director of such popular world movies as Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and Kama Sutra, has added an interesting Indianess to this film which was certainly part of the book, although she seems to have extended it further, especially with the ending of the film taking place and filmed in Jodpur. Thackeray himself was actually born in India. She discusses what she was attempting to achieve with this in her commentary.

    The acting was generally strong and considering the excellent cast of mostly British actors involved this is not a big surprise. Reese Witherspoon is excellent in her role, absolutely nailing the English accent and to my mind also nailing the character as portrayed in this film. People who know the novel may have a different viewpoint. It was slightly surprising to see Rhys Ifans in a very different role than ones like his role in Notting Hill, and the first time he appeared on screen I did not even recognise him.

    I enjoyed watching this film and would encourage people to give it a go.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality is very good with only some minor issues.

    The feature is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio 16x9 enhanced which is the original aspect ratio. The disc also includes automatic pan and scan information if you are a black bars bigot.

    The picture was generally clear and sharp although some scenes were slightly soft, with no evidence of low level noise. There was also some very light grain which affected the clarity of the image.The shadow detail was excellent.

    The colour was excellent, with the wonderful and vibrant costumes really jumping out of the picture. One of the strengths of this film is its colours and this DVD really shows them off well..

    Artefacts were minimal but there were some minor ones present. Firstly, on the film artefacts front there were some very occasional white specks. In terms of film-to-video artefacts, some mild edge enhancement was present and I noticed one spot of very minor aliasing on a scarf at 14:16. Despite the relatively healthy bit rate of the transfer I also noticed some macro-blocking, such as on the red wall at 61:29.

    There are no subtitles which is disappointing for a major new release.

    The layer change occurs at 95:30 and was quite noticeable. It was badly placed and caused a significant pause.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio quality is very good.

    This DVD contains an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at 448 Kb/s only.

    Dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand and there was no problem with audio sync. I did find that the music overwhelmed the dialogue at some points in the movie, which may have been a function of the majority of the music being mixed to the rear speakers.

    The score of this film by Mychael Danna is wonderful and to my mind one of the highlights of the production. It is basically lush classical music, however it subtly mixes in modern touches such as subwoofer usage to great effect. Interestingly, most of the music seemed to be in the surround speakers which made it quite different to most surround mixes. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

    The surround speakers were used mostly for the score and some other atmosphere. There was not a lot in the way of directional effects.

    The subwoofer was nicely integrated and added bass, mostly to the music.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu included an intro, scenes from the film, and the ability to select scenes and languages.

Commentary by Director, Mira Nair

    This is a good quality commentary as the director has interesting things to say, however, it contains the worst sin that a commentary can have - very long pauses. As the film progresses, Mira can go for a few minutes without saying anything and considering that you can't really hear the on-screen dialogue this becomes rather annoying and boring. When she does speak her comments are insightful and interesting and cover topics such as the design of the title sequence, the book and her love of it, casting, costumes, changes to her plan caused by budget and the cast/crew's collaborative approach, technical details, which scenes were added during filming, how they coped with Reese Witherspoon being pregnant during production, the use of water and fire imagery and the influences of India on the style of the film.

Deleted Scenes (14:04)

    Presented non 16x9 enhanced. The scenes are presented as one item, with no ability to select them separately and no commentary. They are quite interesting and worth a look. The scenes are:

Welcome to Vanity Fair (11:32)

    A better than average promotional featurette which includes interviews with the cast & crew talking about the plot, characters and production design.

The Women behind Vanity Fair (9:06)

    Short featurette including interviews with the producers, director and star of the film who are all women and their views on the story. Not bad.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this film is exactly the same except for PAL/NTSC differences. Let's call it a draw.


    A light and entertaining period film based on the novel Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The disc has a decent selection of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV667A DVD-V DVD-A SACD, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersBose 201 Direct Reflecting (Front), Phillips SB680V (Surround), Phillips MX731 (Center), Yamaha YST SW90 (Sub)

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