Vanity Fair ended in style on Sunday night. Jack had his Jill, Jill had her Jack, poor Becky was left battered but unbowed – and still scheming to the end.
It was a beautiful end to ITV’s richly rewarding adaption, with Olivia Cooke confirming her status across the seven episodes as one of Britain’s best young actresses.
Her very 21st century Becky was dazzlingly charismatic throughout, her charm and panache making even her most abject scheming oddly winning. Thackeray would have loved her.
In fact, in this adaptation, Palin’s Thackeray did – losing control of her at the end as she rushed past him to interrupt the great man while he was delivering his moral on the story. As she jumped on the merry-go-round, riding the carousel that has been such a brilliant visual motif this series, Palin’s Thackeray took his hat off to her and smiled.
There were surprises too, even for those unfamiliar with the book. Yes, dutiful Dobbin (Johnny Flynn) finally managed to land Amelia (Claudia Jessie), his years of persistence paying off. And yes, Becky’s poor estranged husband Rawdon (Tom Bateman) carked it, despatched by cruel Lord Steyne to Coventry Island to die a slow lingering death from Yellow Fever.
Rawdon’s death, and Becky’s cruelty to their son, is the most serious black mark against Miss Sharpe over the story; Rawdon really loved her, and she threw it back in his face in her bid for social status.
But she did get spurned by her son at the close, and told her that she was “under no circumstances” to write to her.
Becky was seen ending up with Jos at the end – the “lardy loafer” as his own father called him in episode one. In the book Jos dies in suspicious circumstances (it’s suggested Becky may be responsible) and she returns to England with a fat insurance payout but rather more disgrace than she is here given by scriptwriter Gwyneth Hughes.
It was a neat touch by Hughes to leave matters open-ended, Becky’s howl of abandon on the carousel capturing the freedom of her spirit and the fun upbeat tone of the series as a whole.
It’s just unfortunate that so few viewers have stuck around to see it. With a total consolidated audience of just 2.3m watching the penultimate episode, there is no denying that ITV’s period classic has suffered against BBC1’s ratings juggernaut Bodyguard.
If only it had the resilience of Becky, picking itself up after the setback and fighting back. But with such a small base to start with, it never really stood a chance.
Which is a real shame. Because of all the TV Beckys down the ages – Joyce Redman, Susan Hampshire, Eve Matheson, Natasha Little, not to mention Reese Witherspoon in the 2004 film – Cooke is definitely one of the best we’ve ever had.
This article was originally published on 7 October 2018
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