I knew that something seemed off about those trailers for the new film version of Vanity Fair, however sumptuous the cast and sets: the devious Becky Sharp as a straightforward heroine? Holy gross misreading, Batman! Also, the cresting music and earnestly intoned voiceover hardly capture the rollicking, irreverent narration of the original. This very interesting New York Times piece, however, made me feel a little better. It reports that Mira Nair well knew what she was doing when she took such liberties with William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847-48 novel. And it offers up some of the fascinating nitty-gritty of Nair’s intimate back-and-forth with Thackeray:
The new “Vanity Fair” takes a few wild departures, too, but the changes are never accidental, and sometimes not so far from the source as they seem. When Becky triumphantly rides off on an elephant in India it may seem that the director is inventing a “Becky Goes to Jodhpur” moment. Not at all. Her heroine is acting out an adventure that Thackeray’s Becky could only dream about. Specifically, she dreamed about it in Chapter 3, when Thackeray creates a fantasy in which Becky had married Amelia’s brother, Jos, a civil servant posted to India, had put on “diamond-necklaces, and had mounted upon an elephant.” A throwaway line in the novel becomes one of the film’s most extravagant scenes, emblematic of how Ms. Nair and Mr. Fellowes have lifted bits from Thackeray and presented them in a sparkling new way. Ms. Nair shot this brief Indian scene to replace one originally filmed in the English countryside. “It was, for me, a wink,” she said.
A filmmaking style to capture an English major’s heart, that. I suppose I should have given the director of Monsoon Wedding the benefit of the doubt in the first place.
[Special added bonus materials! Gawk at Thackeray’s original illustrations for his greatest novel here.]