Sunday, December 23, 2018

Pilot Review: Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair (Amazon)
Premiered December 21

To close out 2018, we have one last new show, originally aired on ITV in the UK in September. I never saw the 2004 Reese Witherspoon film of the same name, also based on William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel. Historical costume dramas like this aren’t my favorite genre, but I can appreciate their quality. The most appealing part of this project is the actress in the starring role: Olivia Cooke. I didn’t actually realize that she was British because the three films I’ve seen her in feature an impeccable American accent. She was absolutely terrific in Sundance hits “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Thoroughbreds,” and she tried something new with the action film “Ready Player One.” Here, she’s doing something completely different, excelling in the role of a young woman who comes from less-than-reputable beginnings yet seeks to get ahead in every way possible. She’s completely superb in this role, delighting Amelia as a friend, angering her oldest friend, and charming the hopelessly awkward Joss. I almost didn’t recognize Simon Russell Beale from “The Death of Stalin” in a less featured part as Amelia’s father, one of many roles occupied by acclaimed thespians, including Frances de la Tour and Michael Palin. The pacing of this show is solid, and the music, from Isobel Waller-Bridge, sister of “Fleabag” and “Killing Eve” creator Phoebe, guides its shifting tone, from its playful start to its far more mysterious yet hopeful ending. I’m intrigued but not enough to pick up watching this show.

How will it work as a series? The opening framed this show in a far more entertaining way than the ending one closed it, with Becky now in an entirely difficult situation than expected, living a more secluded life than the very public one she so nearly attained with the Sedley family. The source material is certainly sufficient, and this show seems like a worthwhile adaptation for those who particularly like this sort of fare.
How long will it last? This is set up as a seven-part series which completed airing in October on ITV, while all episodes are available to stream on Amazon Prime as of this past Friday. I would imagine there’s no more story left to tell given the book it’s based on, and I don’t think the British ratings would compel anyone to produce more episodes. Maybe its reception and viewership on Amazon will help make a case for similar productions and other projects featuring Cooke to be commissioned.

Pilot grade: B+