Vanity Fair – the Chiswick connection

Festival review by Bridget Osborne

September 2018

ITV production of Vanity Fair, pictures courtesy of ITV

Vanity Fair launches the 2018 Chiswick Book Festival

Vanity Fair was the theme of the opening night of the 2018 Chiswick Book Festival in the Burlington Pavilion at Chiswick House. ITV’s ‘sexed-up period drama’ (The Telegraph) had hit our screens two weeks earlier and it was a huge hit. The production had a great team behind it: the screenwriter was Gwyneth Hughes, (Dark Angel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood). The director was James Strong (Broadchurch, Doctor Who) and the production company was Mammoth Screen, who made Poldark.

The star-studded cast included Michael Palin, Frances de la Tour and Martin Clunes but the lead roles were all played by actors in their twenties: Olivia Cooke (then 24) played the heroine Becky Sharp, Tom Bateman (29) her husband Rawdon Crawley and Claudia Jessie (28) her best friend Amelia Sedley.

ITV production of Vanity Fair, pictures courtesy of ITV

The production was designed to appeal to today’s audience. ‘In the social-climbing Becky Sharp, it has a heroine in tune with today’s materialistic, self-obsessed world’ said the Daily Mail. “She would be so self-promoting and she would love social media,” Olivia Cook told The Telegraph. The soundtrack included Madonna’s Material Girl.

The Chiswick connection

Director of the Chiswick Book Festival Torin Douglas is very astute at picking up on current TV drama series to launch the festival at Chiswick House. In 2017 the theme was Jane Austen, with actor Imogen Stubbs. The year before it was Victoria. Queen Victoria we know visited Chiswick House, the Austen connection was a bit more tenuous but Vanity Fair is right on the button, as William Thackeray went to school in Chiswick and the book’s first chapter is set in Chiswick Mall.

Photographs above: Places in Old Chiswick associated with William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair  – Walpole House, Chiswick Square, and a plaque marking the garden where Thackeray describes Becky Sharp throwing the dictionary  

The launch evening, sold out with a waiting list two weeks earlier, featured writer Gwyneth Hughes and actor Claudia Jessie with Thackeray scholar Professor John Sutherland talking about Vanity Fair with Festival Director Torin Douglas. 

You can read more about the Chiswick Book Festival here and a profile of Director Torin Douglas here.