In Mira Nair's (Monsoon Wedding) adaptation 19th-century Europe meets the cultural vibrancy of India. Reese Witherspoon stars as the ambitious heroine, Becky Sharp, one of literature's most intriguing and complex female characters. With nothing but wit, beauty, and sensuality at her disposal, Sharp travels on her scheme-filled journey to the height of society, only to find that the destination is as morally low as the gutter from which she came. Gabriel Bryne joins the cast as the devious Marquess of Steyne, along with James Purefoy as Rawdon Crawley. Witherspoon's performance is short of convincing, lacking a smooth transition from coyish girl to brazen coquette.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture is impeccable, free of noticeable artifacts or graininess. While the lighting is a bit drab and dark to reflect the mood of the time period, the vivid colors of the costumes and makeup make a nice contrast and emerge beautifully. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also impressive. Dialogue comes through with great clarity, although the mix didn't make much use of my sub.
The special features are few but definitely worth watching. Vanity Fair comes with the typical run-of-the-mill extras, including deleted scenes and director commentary, in which Nair shares the film's inspiration from her colorful Indian heritage. Two featurettes—"The Women Behind Vanity Fair" and "Welcome to Vanity Fair"—complete the list and are in some ways more interesting than the film itself. Overall, Vanity Fair is not a bad DVD release, but it's hardly worth your $30 if you're not a big fan of the Victorian era.