Becky Sharp is one of the most intriguing antiheroines in English literature – and if she could take a time machine to 2018, Vanity Fair star Tom Bateman reckons she’d be an Instagram sensation.
“This looks at the narcissism of society, it looks at society and what people will do to succeed,” says Bateman, who plays her love interest Captain Rawdon Crawley in ITV and Amazon’s new autumn drama.
“Do they really want that? The levels they’ll go to it, the vanity of everyone. Look at Twitter and Instagram – she’s Kim Kardashian, in a way.”
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Aside from being obsessed with her image and popularity Kardashian-style, WM Thackeray’s antiheroine is all about making tomorrow better than today.
Played by Olivia Cooke in this adaptation, she is charming and manipulative, beautiful and conniving, intelligent yet calculating. A penniless orphan destined for a career as a governess, she is determined to climb higher and higher in a society that is obsessed with status and appearances.
Becky constructs new identities over and over as she adapts herself to how she wants to be perceived, despite facing the suspicions and hostility of people who judge her humble background.
It’s a timeless story. But is it especially suited to 2018?
“I always get asked the r-word question. Relevance,” screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes tells RadioTimes.com. “And I don’t really care about that actually. I don’t care about relevance, but willy-nilly you find yourself just noticing things about the modern world and noticing the fit.
“And the young members of the cast were really, really struck by how much like Instagram-world it is and the shallowness of people’s ambitions. And how things of this world have far too great a hold on them, and the modern thing about everybody wanting to be famous is very Vanity Fair.”
She adds: “The celebrity cult and the Instagram stuff, the constant showing off about your life rather than living it, grasping for things of this world that are not worth having –it’s sort of a universal thing, but it’s a really, really appropriate thing right now.”
In fact, Bateman noticed an odd parallel at a Paul Simon concert as he watched huge numbers of people in the audience recording themselves watching the show.
He explained: “It’s bizarre for me, because I just think, you’re filming it and then they’re not actually watching it, they’re posting it because they want everyone to see them as a person who goes to festivals and concerts, instead of actually going to a concert.
“And I think that’s what this is full of, and why I think it will hit some home truths with people. Because Becky Sharp and Rawdon, they pretend that they have money and a house. They can’t afford the house, they can’t afford the clothes, but it’s all about going to the right parties so that people perceive you. They literally have no money, they’re just running up debts everywhere.
“So they are doing that same thing of pretending that they’re watching a gig, they’re pretending that they’re at a Paul Simon concert – but they’re not, actually.”
He adds: “I think you could very much make a Vanity Fair in 2018, and I think it would probably look like a documentary.”
This article was originally published on 2 September 2018