Crafty Becky Sharp may not have been blessed with a good start in life, but she has her wits, her beauty, and her ability to speak fluent french, qualities she hoped will raise her from orphan to leader of society. Along the way, she laughs at society but years to be at its center, falls in love, but makes foolish choices, has a heart of gold at times and could care less in others.
The film is an adaption of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel, an undertaking, since the book spans decades of the early 19th century and is filled with complex characters. It is filled with lush costumes and sets, that makes it visually stunning at times to watch. Within their confines, the cast forges along, with Reese Witherspoon, who does her best as Becky, the unscrupulous social climber. Unfortunately, she sometimes comes across as dazed and flirty, rather than powerful and clever.
The viewer can feel a little dazed, too, since the film rushes through all of the various complicated plots, leaving important bits out that make you wonder why on earth characters wind up where they land. For example, brooding Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (George Osborne) winds up marrying the suddenly penniless woman he was promised to by his father. Why? Osborne lives only for himself and is shown to have little honor in the film. His battlefield confession in a letter to his father seems trifling and out of place. There is no backstory or character depth to explain it.
Even a complicated characters seem to flip flop around, changing motivations and suddenly appearing as different people all together. The two Bollywood style productions in the film pull you out of the 19th century in a jarring way.
To add to the confusion, none of the characters visually age. Thirty years later, Becky looks just the same as she did when she was a young ingenue, although Witherspoon seems to try to swap the bright eyes of youth for the lidded ones of jaded experience.