“THIS is Vanity Fair.
“A world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having.”
(William Makepeace Thackeray)
August 2017. Bloomsbury Centre Baptist Church, London WC2.
Gathered in the church’s ‘Friendship Centre’ were the cast, production team, executives and the rest of the team involved in ITV’s new adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.
With screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes announcing herself as “assistant to the author”.
I had already read all seven of her sparkling scripts.
But it was here in this room that they were first brought alive during an almost day long script read-through.
Filming of this Mammoth Screen drama – a joint production involving ITV and Amazon Studios – was due to begin in a few weeks.
And with director James Strong taking the lead as today’s world of old London town went about its business outside, it was already clear we were on the verge of something rather special.
Many months later, as filming neared its end, I interviewed James and several leading cast members for ITV.
Olivia Cooke, who plays Becky Sharp, told me:
“I felt an overwhelming sense of gratefulness and excitement to do the job.
“But also, ‘Oh, now I’ve got to do it. They’ve cast the wrong person. I don’t have it in me to play this part. She is so iconic.’
“The pressure of all of that.
“Everyone has their version of Becky Sharp in their head. She is so beloved. So after the joy of getting the role I felt an impending dread of actually having to play her.”
As it happens, back in 1998 I also interviewed the cast of the last (BBC) television adaptation of Vanity Fair.
When Natasha Little took the role of Becky Sharp.
The 2018 version is very much of both our time and Thackeray’s.
With the lives of the characters rising and falling as they go round and round…just as they do on the carousel we see at the start of every episode.
Introduced by Michael Palin as show master William Thackeray.
The July 2018 BAFTA press launch in London’s Piccadilly simply confirmed what a superb job all involved had done since that script read-through almost a year before.
This is screen drama at its very best.
You can read my interviews for ITV with Olivia Cooke (Becky Sharp), Claudia Jessie (Amelia Medley), Tom Bateman (Rawdon Crawley), Charlie Rowe (George Osborne), Johnny Flynn (William Dobbin), Martin Clunes (Sir Pitt Crawley), Frances de la Tour (Miss Matilda Crawley) and director James Strong at the link below:
Vanity Fair begins on ITV at 9pm next Sunday (September 2) with the second episode screened the following night. The series then continues on Sunday evenings.
Scroll down for more production photos by Robert Viglasky.