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“These 19th-century stories are all about one thing, a child becoming an adult. If you start with a cast who are older, their behaviour seems a little psychopathic,” points out executive producer Gwyneth Hughes, who adapted Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1847 novel into the seven-episode mini-series for ITV in 2017.
Her most important job was handling one of literature’s most unlikeable heroines, 19-year-old Miss Becky Sharp (Olivia Cooke), as she gads about Europe living it up like a Kardashian in a world that wants women to be silent and demure. “She goes completely above her station, class and gender and at that time it was completely unheard of,” says Olivia.
“Becky has weaponised all her talents and uses them just to survive. Because she’s only got herself to rely on, she doesn’t have the option to fade into the background or to marry poor. She has to strive for the best and there’s no other way,” adds a defiant Olivia. Here are three ways that she uses society’s expectation against them…
Red dresses, feathers and jewels
“In the early 19th Century, there was a huge amount of etiquette around what you were allowed to wear. It would tell people what class you were, what your personality was like; it really spoke volumes,” says costume designer Lucinda Wright. “Becky changes her look to how she wants to be portrayed in society.”
Strut your stuff
Onscreen, Becky tells her boss in one scene that she’s rather “beg in the streets” than adopt a “more ladylike” attitude. Becky slouches, pouts and practically snaps her gum. “The way it was written by a lot of men is that women were very passive and apologetic, and they tried to make themselves as small as possible and I just don’t think that’s true for every woman that lived in these times,” says Olivia.
Make your match
Know your place? No thank you. “The only option to better herself was to marry someone who was above her station because a woman can’t go out and work to make her own money at that time unless she’s a prostitute. But Becky is incredibly modern in her tenacity,” warns Olivia.
Performers involved in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens carousel scene in episode 1 wound up going round the carousel over 100 times to get the shot.
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