Going up in the world

Vanity Fair

by Ben Felsenburg 

Bonnets and pinafores at the ready: for it’s time to dive into Vanity Fair (Sunday, ITV, 9pm). Filling that considerable Poldark- sized hole in the schedules which has left us starved of costume drama, the epic new seven-part adaptation of the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray plunges us into early 19th- century society at its very best – and worst. as the author himself (played by Michael Palin) declares: ‘Please remember, Vanity Fair is a very, very foolish place, full of all sorts of humbug, falseness and pretension. A world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having.’

Yes, it does sound all too familiar to contemporary ears – plus ça change, eh? – but at least there are elegant locations and attire to adorn the cruel, coruscating satire. Our heroine – or anti-heroine – Becky Sharp is played by bright new shining British star Olivia Cooke as a fiercely smart young lady who refuses to be held back by her lowly origins. Finding herself suddenly out of favour as a tutoress at the genteel Pinkerton Academy For Young ladies, she enters the employ of the Sedley household. There the family’s lovely daughter, Amelia (Claudia Jessie), may be a useful stepping stone to a succession of eligible young men for Becky, who’s in search of the prize of marriage to instantly elevate her status. Cynics might say all too little has changed since two centuries ago, but it’s an almighty entertainment that rattles along at a fair old pace.


MOTHER’S DAY (Monday, BBC2, 9pm)

Anna Maxwell Martin stars in a powerfully moving drama- documentary recounting the aftermath of the Warrington bombing in 1993.


WANDERLUST (Tuesday, BBC1, 9pm)


An eye-opening and sometimes extremely raunchy story of modern marriage begins, starring Toni Collette and Steven Mackintosh.

PRESS (Thursday, BBC1, 9pm)

Any resemblance to real-life figures is entirely deliberate in a new saga of the newspaper world, starring David Suchet as a press baron, written by Mike Bartlett.