So who is in the cast – and who are the key characters? Here’s what you need to know.
Olivia Cooke plays Becky Sharp
Who is Becky Sharp? The main character in our story. Born to a French opera dancer and a poor, drunken artist, she is orphaned as a teenager and accepted at Miss Pinkerton’s academy for young ladies to teach French in exchange for her schooling and upkeep. Once she goes out in the world, Becky is determined to rise in society – by any means necessary. At heart she is selfish and uncaring, but she is an excellent manipulator and uses her intelligence, wit and feminine charms to fend for herself. She has ruthless ambition.
Where have I seen Olivia Cooke before? Olivia Cooke played Emma Decody in A&E drama Bates Motel, before taking a turn towards film – starring in the horror films The Quiet Ones and Ouija, and playing Rachel in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. She recently appeared as Art3mis in the Steven Spielberg movie Ready Player One.
Claudia Jessie plays Amelia Sedley
Who is Amelia Sedley? Amelia “Emmy” Sedley is Becky’s opposite, and her unlikely friend. Emmy is naturally sweet, obedient, kind-hearted and naive, with blind loyalty that verges on stupidity. She has been protected by her doting parents who sent her to Miss Pinkerton’s academy, but now she is back home and looking forward to an impending marriage to childhood sweetheart George Osborne.
Where have I seen Claudia Jessie before? The actress recently made an impression as Jodie Taylor in Line of Duty. Her other credits have included Porters, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and Doctors.
Michael Palin plays WM Thackeray
Who is WM Thackeray? The author of Vanity Fair. The story is told in the novel by a mysterious narrator who takes a satirical look at all the goings-on in the world of the idle and undeserving rich, otherwise known as “Vanity Fair” (originally “a place or scene of ostentation or empty, idle amusement and frivolity” in The Pilgrim’s Progress). This TV version brings in Michael Palin as the author himself as he directs all the action at the fair – spinning our characters around on an old-fashioned carousel.
Where have I seen Michael Palin before? Michael Palin is, of course, famous for Monty Python. He has co-created and starred in such classics as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and Life of Brian. However, he is equally lauded for his various travel documentaries, and you may also have spotted him recently in films such as Remember Me and The Death of Stalin, or heard his voice in Clangers.
Charlie Rowe plays George Osborne
Who is George Osborne? Not the former Chancellor of the Exchequer turned newspaper editor. This George Osborne has been close to the Sedley family all his life and has grown up as a friend and neighbour, with his and Emmy’s fathers doing business together. It has been understood for years that he will marry Emmy and he is fond of her after a fashion, but he is more in love with himself and is preoccupied with drinking, gambling and his own pursuits.
Where have I seen Charlie Rowe before? He has previously starred as Liam in Salvation, and Leo in Red Band Society. He was in the TV mini-series Neverland as Peter.
Johnny Flynn plays William Dobbin
Who is William Dobbin? Oh, poor Dobbin! A lanky and gawky young man with very big feet, he is a gentleman who has risen honestly in society and exhibits qualities of kindness, loyalty and respect. He and George have been friends since they were at school together.
Where have I seen Johnny Flynn before? The actor has starred as Dylan in the Channel 4 and Netflix series Lovesick, and appeared as young Albert Einstein in Genius. He’s also a musician with his own band, Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit, and created the theme song for BBC4 comedy Detectorists.
Tom Bateman plays Captain Rawdon Crawley
Who is Captain Rawdon Crawley? Thackeray describes him as a “heavy dragoon with strong desires and small brains, who had never controlled a passion in his life.” He is the younger son of Sir Pitt and stands to inherit money from his aunt, Miss Crawley, who has always loved him best despite his love of sports, gambling and women. He falls hard for Becky.
Where have I seen Tom Bateman before? Internationally he’s perhaps best known for playing Giuliano Medici in Da Vinci’s Demons. He’s also played Danny Hillier in The Tunnel, Robert Jekyll in Jekyll & Hyde, and Bouc in Murder on the Orient Express alongside Kenneth Branagh and Daisy Ridley.
Claire Skinner plays Mrs Sedley
Who is Mrs Sedley? Amelia’s mother. She has mixed feelings about Becky Sharp when the latter arrives to stay with them in London.
Where have I seen Claire Skinner before? The actress is fondly remembered for her role as Sue Brockman in the BBC series Outnumbered. She recently played DCI Vivien Barnes in ITV’s Next of Kin, and back in 2008 she starred as Fanny Dashwood in the TV adaptation of Sense & Sensibility.
Simon Russell Beale plays Mr Sedley
Who is Mr Sedley? Amelia’s father, who has made his money in the City.
Where have I seen Simon Russell Beale before? An acclaimed stage actor, he’s also made plenty of on screen appearances – with credits including Into the Woods, The Death of Stalin, and Penny Dreadful.
David Fynn plays Jos Sedley
Who is Jos Sedley? An extremely fat and very vain and self-regarding man. He’s the older brother of Amelia and an officer in the East India Company, returned from India because of his many medical complaints. While he struggles to talk to women, he believes himself to be a bit of a lothario. Jos is a figure of ridicule to everyone around him.
Where have I seen David Fynn before? Theatre fans will recognise Jos Sedley as Dewey Finn from the West End cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical School of Rock, a performance which earned him an Olivier Award nomination in 2017. He’s also known for playing Brett in the TV sitcom Undateable, and has credits in Doctor Who, Black Mirror, Peep Show, Game of Thrones and Sherlock.
Martin Clunes plays Sir Pitt Crawley
Who is Sir Pitt Crawley? The second stage of Becky Sharp’s journey in Vanity Fair takes her to the house of Sir Pitt Crawley. He’s a baronet and the owner of a huge estate at Queen’s Crawley, but despite his position in society he is a dirty, stingy and lecherous old man.
Where have I seen Martin Clunes before? The actor is perhaps best known for playing Martin Ellingham in Doc Martin, and Gary Strang in Men Behaving Badly.
Frances de la Tour plays Miss Matilda Crawley
Who is Miss Matilda Crawley? One of the most entertaining characters in Vanity Fair. Rich, single, elderly Miss Crawley has the family fortune and now her potential heirs are at pains to impress her, even if it looks likely she’ll leave the bulk of it to favoured nephew Rawdon. Miss Crawley is dismissive and deeply unimpressed with the people around her – in fact, there is probably a touch of her in Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess.
Where have I seen Frances de la Tour before? You may recognise the 73-year-old actress as Madame Maxime from the Harry Potter movies. She’s also known for playing Miss Ruth Jones in the iconic sitcom Rising Damp in the 70s, and has starred in Cold Lazarus, Mrs Lintott in The History Boys, and Mother Hildegarde in Outlander. She also starred in ITV sitcom Vicious.
Robert Pugh plays Mr Osborne
Who is Mr Osborne? George Osborne’s father. He is a long-time business associate of Mr Sedley who helped him rise in society, but is ambitious for his family to climb ever further and make good connections.
Where have I seen Robert Pugh before? The Welsh actor played Craster in Game of Thrones. He’s also appeared in Mr Selfridge as Lord Wynnstay and Jack Reynolds in Doctor Foster.
Patrick Fitzsymons plays Major Michael O’Dowd
Who is Major Michael O’Dowd? The Major of George and Dobbin’s regiment. A respectable man, he is entirely under his wife’s control and happy to agree with anything she says – but she looks after him well.
Where have I seen Patrick Fitzsymons before? The actor has made a number of appearances in TV shows from The Woman in White to Game of Thrones, and from Line of Duty to The Frankenstein Chronicles.
Monica Dolan plays Mrs Peggy O’Dowd
Who is Mrs Peggy O’Dowd? The kind-hearted Irish wife of Major O’Dowd. She is a long-time army wife and is both resourceful and supportive, taking Amelia under her wing – but many characters (including Becky and George) find her irritating and look down on her.
Where have I seen Monica Dolan before? A prolific and versatile character actress, Monica Dolan recently played Marion Thorpe in A Very English Scandal and Tracey Pritchard in W1A. Her other credits include The Casual Vacancy, Wolf Hall, Appropriate Adult (for which she won a Bafta), Eye in the Sky, and The Witness for the Prosecution.
Anthony Head plays Lord Steyne
Who is Lord Steyne? Once back in London after the Battle of Waterloo, Becky becomes acquainted with the powerful (and hugely wealthy) Lord Steyne. He becomes enamoured with her and increasingly visits her at home – much as he destains her husband Rawdon.
Where have I seen Anthony Head before? You may remember Anthony Head as Rupert Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Uther Pendragon from Merlin. He was the Prime Minister in Little Britain, while other recent credits include The Split, You Me & Them, and Girlfriends.
Sally Phillips plays Lady Steyne
Who is Lady Steyne? Lord Steyne’s wife, who he ignores and disrespects.
Where have I seen Sally Phillips before? As an actress, television presenter and comedian, Sally Phillips has starred in Smack the Pony, Miranda, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and in the Bridget Jones movies as Sharon.
Elizabeth Berrington plays Lady Bareacres
Who is Lady Bareacres? A thoroughly unpleasant and snobbish woman. Before the Battle of Waterloo, George is desperate to court her attention (though she is extremely frosty to him), but she makes clear her distain for George, Amelia, Becky and their whole social circle.
Where have I seen Elizabeth Berrington before? The actress’s roles include Ruby Fry in Waterloo Road, Paula Kosh in Stella, Kerry in Camping, Dawn Stevenson in The Syndicate, and Natalie in In Bruges.
Mathew Baynton plays Bute Crawley
Who is Bute Crawley? An uptight, devout and extremely judgemental man who is always reading sermons, saying prayers and scolding people for their lack of manners. He is detested by his father, Sir Pitt Crawley, and by his brother Rawdon.
But if you’ve read the novel and are now slightly confused by the characters of Bute and Martha Crawley, allow us to explain. Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes has done away with some of the vast numbers of Crawleys to make things a little simpler – so these two are slightly different from how we meet them in the novel.
Mathew Baynton actually plays the character originally called Pitt – that is, the son of Sir Pitt Crawley (Martin Clunes). To save confusion between him and his dad, he’s been renamed Bute.
In the novel, there IS a Reverend Bute Crawley who is Sir Pitt’s brother and loves drinking, eating and gambling. He and his five children seem to have been abolished entirely so Baynton can take his name.
Who is Martha Crawley? In the novel, the (now-abolished) Reverend’s wife Mrs Bute Crawley is an interferer and a schemer, and so she has been given to Baynton’s character as his wife in this adaptation. She is played by Sian Clifford.
Where have I seen Matthew Baynton before? You may know him from Horrible Histories, or as the co-creator, writer and star of The Wrong Mans and Yonderland. He’s also appeared as Deano in Gavin & Stacey.
Richie Campbell plays Sam
Who is Sam? The Sedleys’ servant. In the novel he is referred to as “black Sambo” – a term then used for a person of African, Indian or mixed heritage. In both the book and this TV adaptation, he is one of the only people to see right through Becky from the moment he sets eyes on her with her shabby bag at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy.
Where have I seen Richie Campbell before? You may have caught his performance as Liam Sutcliffe in the TV series Liar. He’s also been Sergeant Nightingale in The Frankenstein Chronicles, Viv in the TV series Eve, and Dashel Jordan in Death in Paradise. On stage he’s starred in Dirty Butterfly, Truth and Reconciliation, and To Kill A Mockingbird.
Suranne Jones plays Miss Pinkerton
Who is Miss Pinkerton? The snobbish Miss Pinkerton runs an academy for young ladies, which Becky and Amelia are leaving just as we first meet them. She honours only those who have money and position, and comes to detest Becky – who in turn treats her with contempt.
Where have I seen Suranne Jones before? The actress portrayed Gemma Foster in the TV series Doctor Foster. Her other notable roles have included Karen McDonald in Coronation Street, Ruth Slater in Unforgiven, Rachel Bailey in Scott & Bailey, and Claire McGory in Save Me.
This article was originally published in August 2018