On one view, a new adaptation of Thackeray’s classic Vanity Fair with its unapologetically ruthless female lead refusing to let class, poverty and gender get in the way of what she wants, sounds very timely – for a 19th-century novel, Becky Sharp is a very 21st-century anti-heroine. As far as I’m concerned, though, ITV1’s latest version (beginning tonight, Sunday, 9pm with episode 2 tomorrow) comes too late, for a couple of reasons. The first being wholly personal: I watched the BBC version with Natasha Little years ago, I made it two-thirds of the way through the book before I couldn’t take it any more, and I deliberately avoided the Mira Nair film on the basis that, although it looked very promising, I’d had enough of this particular story which I didn’t really like in the first place. In short, I really don’t need any more versions of Vanity Fair in my life. The second reason is a bit more practical: Bodyguard started last Sunday, so a large chunk of the available audience (including me) already has Richard Madden/Keeley Hawes-related plans for tonight’s 9pm slot, thanks.
Having said all that, though, Vanity Fair boasts an impressive cast including Suranne Jones, Simon Russell Beale and Michael Palin, with Olivia Cooke (who was excellent in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) as the irrepressible Becky herself, and production company Mammoth‘s recent run of successes (including Poldark, Victoria and Parade’s End) shows they know their way around a period drama. So if you’re in the market for a lavishly-costumed social satire with a very sharp (sorry) edge, dive on in. This water’s got a lot of bite.