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Classic Woman-centric Movie Review: “Becky Sharp”

Happy Friday, all! This week’s movie pick, while based on a classic novel, is on the lighter side. “Becky Sharp,” made in 1935, is based on a play by Langdon Mitchell which is a dramatization of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. The film was directed by Rouben Mamoulian and was the first full-length Technicolor feature. It stars Miriam Hopkins as Becky Sharp, Frances Dee as Amelia Sedley, Nigel Bruce as George Sedley, Alan Mowbray as Rawdon Crawley, and Cedric Hardwicke as the Marquis of Steyne.

Becky and Rawdon
Becky and Rawdon. Image via widescreenmuseum.com.

The film follows bright-eyed social climber Becky Sharp from the time that she and her friend, Amelia Sedley, emerge from finishing school, where Becky, who is poor, was a charity student. Amelia, who is from a rather wealthy family, invites Becky to stay with her for a few days. When George Sedley, Amelia’s brother, meets Becky, he is smitten with her, though he knows his parents will disapprove of the match. From here, Becky travels to her new post as a governess for the Crawley family, and it’s here that she meets and falls in love with their cousin, Rawdon Crawley, who stands to inherit a fortune from his aunt. He and Becky secretly marry, and the revelation of the marriage causes as uproar in the family, and Rawdon is disowned. He joins the army to fight in the Napleonic wars, and he brings in supplementary income through gambling. They are able to live well, and Becky enjoys her popularity among some of the officers while scandalizing their society wives. Once the Napoleonic wars are over, they move to London and live well, moving in the most exclusive social circles with the assistance of the Marquis de Steyne, who has taken a liking to Becky. The two are caught in a compromising situation by Rawdon when she rebuffs Steyne’s advances, and this spells the end of Becky’s marriage and marks the beginning of her descent into ruin. She falls so far that she ends up having to sing for her supper in a beer hall, until she meets with George Sedley again.

Becky and the soldiers at a ball
Becky the social butterfly. Image via film-foundation.org.

The film, much like Thackeray’s book, dares to ask the question of how much is too much. It’s one thing to be ambitious and to take risks, but then it’s another thing to be greedy and risk everything you hold dear. Becky’s lifelong dream has revolved around being a wealthy woman and moving in the more exclusive circles of high society, but because of her low birth, it’s a virtual impossibility. But Becky makes things happen on her own, and when she attains what she wants, she still isn’t happy and wants more. Such a way of thinking leads Becky into a life of highs and lows, in which she has everything and then loses it just as quickly as she got it. Still, Becky seems to take it all in stride, for as soon as she hits a low, she knows she’ll soon hit a high.

The quality of the film’s color is inferior to what it had originally been, as it had to be transferred from the original Technicolor film to a film with a smaller frame. Still, it’s very easy to pick out the patterns and textures of the sets and costumes, and it’s easy to imagine what it may have been like when originally released. With a gorgeous aesthetic and an engaging story, it’s definitely not one to be missed.

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