Lowdown: English society issues during Napoleonic times.
The films I have a lot to say about tend to be either really bad or really good. 2004's Vanity Fair is not such a film, probably because it is quite mediocre, which comes as a bit of a surprise to me given it's directed by Indian Mira Nair: she's a woman, she's done Monsoon Wedding, so you sort of expect things to be good. Or at least interesting.
Set in England during the times of the wars with Napoleon, Vanity Fair follows the character portrayed by Reese Witherspoon. She's not rich but she's not poor, she's not noble but not dead common either. She does have character and brains, though. Looks, too, at least as far as the film's characters are concerned (personally, I fail to see Witherspoon's charm). Using her wits Witherspoon gets to know rich people and influential people and goes up places but tends to come down places, too. The film's a bit vague about it but my impression is that she's meant to be perceived as a good character in a world locked with stupid social and class dogmas that cause misery for everyone; I suspect exposing this misery is the purpose of the film. The relevancy of that message to this day and age, or lack of, is probably the main reason I was left indifferent towards Vanity Fair.
Other than that I will mention a cast full of familiar quality names (take Gabriel Byrne and Bob Hoskins as examples), yet no one really shine.
Worst scene: It is obvious Vanity Fair was made to look and feel a lot like a Jane Austen based film, in particular Sense and Sensibility. The Jane Austen films I have seen tend to conclude with a happy ending concerning a wedding ceremony or an implied one; having Vanity Fair follow the Austen tradition smells like a rat to me, especially when an Indian background is set and you know the director's background.
Overall: Vanity Fair, while not boring, is quite uninvolving. 2 out of 5 stars.