The screenwriter says he used all the material from Austen’s work in the first half of the first episode.
(but throwing my tub of popcorn at Becky Sharp)
Vanity Fair, a classic story written by William Makepeace Thackeray in 1847-48, is back on the screen…again…as a TV mini-series, now streaming on Amazon Prime. This production is an ITV and Amazon Studios remake that includes seven parts.
Let’s be clear. This story has been portrayed in film and television more times than you can change your channel. Film versions: 1915, 1922, 1923, 1932, 1935, and 2004. Television versions: 1967, 1987, 1998, and 2018. I ask you, did we really need another remake?
To be honest, I find no fault in this production as it is lavish and well-acted. They’ve gone to great lengths on settings, war scenes, costumes, and outrageous hats to make this appear authentic to the time period.
Nevertheless, the character of Becky Sharp, in my opinion, doesn’t need to be memorialized again on screen. By the end of the story, I’ve had enough of this selfish, soulless, money hungry, and unempathetic woman as one can stomach. Having to watch her seven hours is pure torture. I find Becky Sharp as annoying as Lily Langtry when it comes to female leads in a book or film production. If you haven’t watched Lillie a 1978 TV series production, you’re missing out on another interesting female climbing the social ladder in English society who by the end of the story you grow to despise.
Okay, so putting aside my dislike of the main character, I cannot fault this new series to any great extent. The storyline, if you know nothing about the infamous Becky Sharp, is about a poor woman who is determined to climb the ladder of success through hook or crook. She hooks her victims, hoards her money, takes advantage of others to their financial ruin, and cares nothing deeply for the human beings around her to any great extent.
The characters in the story make their fortunes, lose their fortunes, die of strokes and heart attacks, and leave to their wealth and inheritance to the next person. Of course, what makes Becky tick as a human being is somewhat understandable. Orphaned at an early age, with an art teacher as a father and dancer as her mother, she hasn’t had the best of life so far. She suggests to her best friend in one of the last scenes she became a woman at eight years of age. Naturally, you do try to find a bit of sympathy for her plight that has her turned her into such a cold-hearted, money-hungry creature, filled with vanity.
Having seen the 2004 Movie with Reese Witherspoon, I thought the runtime of 141 minutes was enough of Becky for me to get the picture. Any screentime with James Purefoy is worth the watch as he looked especially dapper in his English military uniform as Captain Crawley.
If you’ve not seen any Vanity Fair renditions, I would recommend you tune into this longer version. Should the idea of watching seven, forty-seven-minute episodes (or 5.48 hours) of Becky Sharp’s personality rubbing you the wrong way, check out the movie version instead.
Homefront, is another series on Britbox that didn’t keep my attention. I struggled to watch the episodes until the end, which revolves around the lives and melodrama of four army wives in the UK. Their husbands come and go from Afghanistan throughout the series. Since I enjoyed The Last Post, I was looking forward to this series but it fell flat.
The basics are a young wife who loses her husband and the ensuing inquest into his death overseas as the family members cope with the loss. A woman engaged to a major who can’t decide whether she’s army-wife material. Two teenagers acting out. Then, the usual, drama of infidelity and a wife who can’t make up her mind whether to forgive or kick him to the curb.
In order to pinpoint my disappointment, I guess it lies with the story, the acting, and the unnecessary and somewhat boring scenes that lead to a snail’s pace of a show. There is really no empathy for any of the characters, even the wife of a dead soldier.
Sorry on this one — don’t have very much redeeming accolades to give for this poor soap opera quality. Not surprised it wasn’t renewed. It’s easily forgettable.
Signing off on a short and somewhat sour commentary on Homefront.
There are times that I become so overwhelmed at the absolute greatest of British television, I’m speechless. No one does it better than the Brits. I’ve just finished the two seasons of The Jury that first broadcast in 2002 and then again in 2011. Both series consists of five one-hour episodes.
It begins with ordinary citizens receiving in their mail a summons to jury duty. A few of the jurors in each case are focused upon as subplots and how the experience affects them. Of course, the main focus is upon the accused. The first 2002 series revolves around a Sikh teenager who is accused of murdering a classmate who bullied him. The second in 2011 focuses on a man accused of brutally murdering three women he met on an internet dating site.
For those of you who love Gerard Butler, you will find him staring as one of the jurors, along with other familiar faces such as Helen McCrory.
The entire series engrosses you into the English jury process. As the audience, you are given no more information about the guilt or innocence of the individual than what the jurors hear. When they retire to deliberate, no one agrees, of course, initially upon the verdict. You, on the other hand, can cast your own vote. In the first series there is still some doubt, but in the second it appears to be overwhelming evidence at the end of the unanimous outcome.
Needless to say, I’m continuing to rave about the excellence in writing, acting, and presentation of some of these fantastic British shows. This one is currently streaming on BritBox and well worth the ten episodes.
I cannot believe after searching through my reviews that I haven’t written a review about Vera. It’s probably because after watching seven seasons multiple times and now watching Season 8 on BritBox after it airs in the U.K., that I’m just forgetful, pet.
So let me take a moment to tell you what I think of Vera. I love Vera. I love the show. I love DCI Vera Stanhope and Brenda Blethyn who brings her life. I love the way she calls people “pet” and “luv” and wanders around the beautiful Northumberland landscape solving murders. I love the way she barks at everybody on her staff and confronts every suspicious bloke on the block. Needless to say, it’s a great show.
Based on novels of the same name, written by crime writer Ann Cleeves, Vera in herself is a complex woman. Excellent in her job and ability to solve murders, on the personal side she is a very private and lone individual who doesn’t care to socialize. She would rather retreat to her secluded home, once owned by her father, drink, and review case files at night by herself.
She has gone through two DS’s in the years, played by David Leon and Kenny Doughty. Both have survived Vera’s demanding work schedule and barking orders to solve the mysteries. Each episode runs 90-minutes in length, so these are deep-dive stories into the multiple suspects until Vera catches her killer.
As usual, British crime shows are the best.
While researching my own English ancestry, I found this quote from the local newspapers. It indicates the deep love England held for Victoria at her death in 1901.
“The news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Victoria has brought much grief to the streets of Salford. Strong men could scarce restrain their grief. whilst wives and mothers broke down completely.”
One hundred and sixteen years later, our fascination with Victoria continues. In fact, let’s face it, we are fascinated by the English kings and queens. To feed our need for more, a new production simply entitled Victoria arrived from across the pond to entice the former British colonies. First shown on ITV in the United Kingdom in 2015, it has finally made its way to PBS Masterpiece Theater. Woe to us Americans, who must wait months on end to view British television.
For the past few weeks, I have tuned in to see this new version based on the Queen’s life. Unfortunately, I do not share the name “Victoria” since my birth certificate only says “Vicki.” A part of me always mourned that my parents chose not to give me the full Victoria when baptized. Oh well…enough of that tidbit.
Victoria, the Queen, appears to have captured the imagination of many. Having thoroughly enjoyed the movie, The Young Victoria, which I previously reviewed, I find this version has a different slant to its main characters. Those of us who tuned out world history in high school are now running to Google to put in search terms for Victoria, Albert, and Lord Melbourne so we can read the real stories behind the lavish settings and costumes of this production. Beyond our own research, multiple articles have appeared online about the program and storyline to feed the frenzy. Everything from her marriage to Prince Albert to speculation about her sex life has ended up in the news. Check out the list below.
So has this production met our expectations and given to us a satisfying period drama banquet? Since I occasionally stalk the period drama fanatics groups on Facebook, I have surprisingly met mixed reviews from viewers. I would say the majority are enjoying it but there are a few who have yawned from boredom.
On a positive note, women are swooning over Lord M and others are complaining about Albert’s annoying hair that keeps falling into his eyes. What I find interesting about the Lord Melbourne craze, is thathas been around for years starring in many productions both in the U.S. and U.K. Put him in a period costume, and the women are losing it over a middle-aged man. The love that Victoria supposedly nurtures for him in this version is by all accounts fiction since she wrote that she considered him more like a father figure. Nevertheless, a little eye candy for the ladies on screen never hurt anything.
Albert arrived on the scene, adding the intrigue of one cousin loving another cousin. Frankly, I cannot wrap my head around love with first cousins. Ever since my own made a sexual pass at me when I was twenty, the thought has somewhat turned me off. Nevertheless, these marriages were commonplace. Regardless of their family relationship, it became the love affair of Victoria’s reign, having given birth to nine children until his death that left her devastated. Not to mention the speculation regarding affairs she held later in life with Mr. Brown. If you are unfamiliar with that story, watch Mrs. Brown, the movie from 1997.
In comparison to the movie version The Young Victoria and this Victoria, I honestly prefer the shorter versions to get on with the story. To add to the length of this particular production, we have the downstairs staff and their lives and love affairs, along with the upstairs life of the Queen and her court. Of course, this is season one, and many more seasons are apparently to follow.
The sets and costumes are well done, and the lighting with candles throughout make it feel authentic in the time period. Victoria’s gowns are lavish as well as those by others, and the men are dressed in their finery and golden stitches that make you wish your boyfriend or husband would throw out his blue jeans. PBS posted a video regarding the making of Victoria and the set, which was built in an airport hangar in Yorkshire. You can view it on YouTube. Pretty impressive.
Jenna Coleman comes across as a very immature, child-like queen playing with dolls, who eventually grows into her role as the monarch with the help of Lord Melbourne. Albert, played by Tom Hughes, is far different in personality, appearing inept when it comes to seducing women until he takes notes at a brothel. Frankly, I’ve not witnessed any award-winning performances by anyone yet because the scenes and dialogue do not provide the opportunity. And yes, I have become somewhat bored here and there. Perhaps, as the story continues, the acting will mature as their characters do.
On the other hand, Emily Blunt in The Young Victoria gave a much stronger performance alongside a more confident and capable Albert, played by Rupert Friend. I found this Albert to be more likable. The two portrayals of these historical figures are vastly different in each of these productions.
Regardless of whether you’ve yawned through the series on ITV/PBS or enjoyed it immensely, it serves its purpose for another period drama. As long as we crave these shows about kings and queens from England (occasionally sprinkled with a French monarch), hopefully, ITV, BBC, and whoever else will continue to make the productions to feed our addictions.
2017 will be a terribly busy year with more upcoming seasons of The Crown, Victoria, and the new White Princess on Starz. Let’s not forget Poldark and Outlander to add to that time-travel hangover, as well as a few more period movies hitting the big screens.
As mentioned above, here are the articles.
Streaming on my Acorn television subscription on Amazon is The Brief, an ITV television series, consisting of two seasons. Frankly, it’s too bad that The Brief was so brief being only eight episodes because I found it rather engaging. The ratings apparently weren’t up to par on the second season, and the lead role of Henry Farmer, played by Alan Davies, left the show so it didn’t continue.
It’s based on a group of defense barristers, who sometimes end up prosecuting cases against their own co-workers. Linda Bassett plays Maureen Tyler, the head of the legal group. As stated in the Radio Times review, it is an “engaging blend of courtroom drama, suspense, intrigue, and humour” (or humor as us U.S. folks spell it).
Of course, like all other main characters who are either solicitors, barristers, or DCI’s, they are riddled with personal problems or destructive habits. Henry Farmer’s downfall is gambling, and the man has a definite problem. He ends up homeless and bankrupt but manages to keep on his feet by living with others and taking tough cases that pay well. Since I’m not privy how all this works in the barrister world, I’m in the dark on the wheeling and dealing of case loads. He is not, by the way, a Silk, but he is good barrister nevertheless. I rather like Henry Farmer’s character because he is a decent human being in spite of his habitual gambling.
I especially enjoyed each case, and the courtroom antics were actually intriguing rather than yawningly boring. Of course, court process in the United Kingdom is a bit different than in the United States, particularly when it comes to wearing robes, special collars, and the wigs of horsehair that make them look like 18th-century blokes. You must admit the long-time practice makes it look a bit more posh and formal than our United States courtrooms with our attorneys in three-piece suits. If you want to know more about the practice, here is a good link to read. CLICK HERE Then there is the matter of where they sit the accused in a box that looks like a perch from on high to see everyone involved. All the tables in front of the judges are taken up by the barristers.
If you are looking for a short eight 90-minute episode binge watch, this makes a good choice. Oh, and by the way, you can actually understand what everyone is saying since the setting is the posh side of London rather than the back roads of Britain, Ireland, or Scotland.
ITV says it has ordered a third season of “Grantchester,” featuring James Norton as the crime-fighting clergyman Sidney Chambers.