Four reasons why you should watch Vanity Fair

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Stylist Team
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Vanity Fair

If you like period dramas but often despair at the lack of agency granted to women, then let us direct you to Vanity Fair. The lavish seven part ITV series is an adaptation of the classic 1848 novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, following Becky Sharp as she claws her way from poverty to the dizzy heights of British high society. Here’s why you should watch it.…

Becky Sharp is a hero

Sharp is a self-promoting, witty young woman played with charm by Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel). An arch manipulator, she is here to make a path for herself, not be saved by a man, and that is a rare – and beautiful – thing.

The themes are oddly relevant

It’s easy to presume Becky’s attempts to cross the class divide are purely historical, but class politics do still exist, it’s just the way we talk about them that has changed – ie, we don’t. There is also an interesting discussion about making a name for oneself, which in the modern world of people turning themselves into brands feels particularly prescient.

The adaptation doesn’t shy away from addressing race

And it’s eminently #quotable

The book was written 170 years ago, but the inspiring quotes could have been written for #wednesdaywisdom.

In episode one alone we are treated to: “That was school and this is the world”; “I want to make sure tomorrow is better than today. Every day”; and “When you find the right man… He’ll have lots of money or he won’t be the right man”.

The screenwriter is a woman

This adaptation of Vanity Fair – Reese Witherspoon starred as Becky Sharp in the 2004 film version – is written by a woman, Gwyneth Hughes, who also made the decision to keep in an uncomfortable scene in the book decrying interracial marriage, saying to remove it would have been cowardly. 

Hughes’ hiring is important because, well, have you read Stylist? But also because earlier this year 76 British female TV writers accused drama bosses of not giving them opportunities to work on prime-time shows. Finally, we are seeing change.

Vanity Fair starts on ITV on 2 September, 9pm