Spunky Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) learns at an early age how to take care of herself. Life in London in 1802 is difficult, especially for a 12-year-old orphan. She is sent to a boarding school where she pays her way by scrubbing floors and cleaning rooms. Although she is treated like a second-class citizen in school, Becky’s self-confidence, intelligence and good looks serve her well. She becomes a governess and wins the heart of Captain Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy). Rawdon’s weakness for gambling eventually leads her to financial ruin until a wealthy benefactor, Marquess Steyne (Gabriel Byrne), offers Becky a way out of debt. Her charmed life begins a downhill slide when Lord Steyne’s real motives become known. Based on the classic novel by William Thackeray, Vanity Fair has too many characters and subplots for a movie to do the book justice, even though the acting and colorful sets are top-notch.
Becky can be admired for her determination and resourcefulness as a young girl overcoming the hardships of an orphan in poverty, but she becomes drunk with vanity as she draws the attention of powerful, admiring men, and wealth is more important to her than being a good mother. Vanity Fair lacks foul language and explicit sexual content, but it does include some provocative scenes with exotic dancers and one gruesome scene of dead soldiers on a battle field.