Home Television Drama Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair

1 9 6 7 (UK)
5 x 50 minute episodes

The BBC’s first colour production of a classic serial – a five-part adaptation of Thackeray’s novel of social and amorous manoeuvres – is set during the Napoleonic wars and follows the lives of two friends, the irresistible, unscrupulous Becky Sharp (Susan Hampshire) and shy and demure Amelia Osborne (Marilyn Taylerson) after they leave boarding school.

Becky has no money and must live by her wits. Amelia, on the other hand, comes from a reasonably wealthy family but they suffer financial setbacks and, ultimately, bankruptcy.

Although Becky is a “lady” by birth and appropriately – if reluctantly – educated at a young gentlefolk’s academy, she seems doomed to spend her life in that special limbo, poised between the drawing-room and the servants’ hall, reserved for the governess.

Unless she does something about it – and Becky intends to do something about it!

The escape route is through marriage or, at a pinch, the “protection” of a rich admirer, and the narrative traces her various manoeuvres to achieve this escape with different men: Sir Pitt Crawley (John Welsh) and his dandified son Rawdon (Dyson Lovell); George Osborne the soldier (Roy Marsden), who is killed at Waterloo; Lord Steyne the ageing rake (Robert Flemyng); and fat, foolish Jos Sedley (John Moffatt), the pompous servant of the East India Company.

Contrasting with this calculating career are the unworldly lives of Amelia and of Captain Dobbin (Bryan Marshall), the simple, faithful, lovable misfit in the Regency rat-race.

Airing on BBC2 on the first night of that channel’s full-colour broadcasting, Thackeray’s brilliant dialogue and habit of skipping from scene to scene proved ideal for television, and the lovely nineteenth-century interiors and lavish costumes and uniforms lent themselves wonderfully to colour.

Becky Sharp
Susan Hampshire
Amelia Osborne
Marilyn Taylerson
Rawdon Crawley
Dyson Lovell
Captain Dobbin
Bryan Marshall
Jos Sedley
John Moffatt
George Osborne
Roy Marsden
Mrs Sedley
Barbara Leake
Miss Matilda Crawley
Barbara Couper
Pitt Crawley
Michael Rothwell
Sir Pitt Crawley
John Welsh
Lord Steyne
Robert Flemyng
Howard Taylor