Vanity Fair FIRST LOOK: Suranne Jones is worlds away from her typical raunchy roles as she transforms into prudish headmistress for ITV drama
She’s best known for her sultry performance in Doctor Foster, which even saw her character strip down to her underwear for an impromptu romp with her ex husband.
But Suranne Jones is a far cry away from her role in the BBC drama, as the first look of ITV’s forthcoming costume drama Vanity Fair, released on Saturday, sees her take on the role of a bespectacled, prudish headmistress.
In the mini-series the actress, 39, plays Miss Pinkerton, the snobbish head of an academy for young ladies who dislikes protagonist Becky Sharp, who is played by Olivia Cooke.
Vanity Fair FIRST LOOK: Suranne Jones was worlds away from her sexy image in Doctor Foster as she transformed into a prudish headmistress for ITV drama in images released on Saturday
In the first images from the series, Suranne looks prim and proper in her blue striped gown which also has lace trims across the sleeves and collar to cover her up.
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Her brunette locks are styled into tight curls on her head, and she opted for a more natural look by wearing light touches of make-up.
Suranne seems almost unrecognisable as she adopted the remarkably modest look compared to her run on the steamy BBC drama.
Frisky: The actress is known for her sultry performances on screen in the BBC drama, which even saw her strip down to her underwear for an impromptu romp with her ex husband
Modest: In the first images from the series, Suranne looks prim and proper in her blue striped gown, which has lace across the sleeves and collar to cover her up
She also looked a far cry away from a cheeky image where she flaunted her lithe legs in stockings and a coat, which accompanied an interview in the Sunday Times magazine.
Vanity Fair is said to be full of heart-stopping romance, raging feuds, horses a-plenty and sumptuous costumes, ticking all the boxes for great period drama.
But ITV’s lavish seven-part retelling of the Victorian novel of the same name is so much more than that as it features a heroine in tune with today’s materialistic, self-obsessed world.
Sexy image: Suranne also looks a far cry away from a cheeky image where she flaunted her lithe legs in stockings and a coat
Frumpy: The new image makes her seem almost unrecognisable as she adopted a remarkably modest look compared to her run on the steamy BBC drama
With a top-notch cast, plenty of humour and a soundtrack that includes Madonna’s Material Girl, the series is clearly going to be one for the books.
It is 171 years since satirist William Makepeace Thackeray’s tale was published, but the new adaptation could not be more appropriate for today’s selfie generation.
‘A classic story is forever relevant to the deepest concerns of human life,’ says the show’s writer Gwyneth Hughes.
New role: Olivia Cooke plays the cunning Becky Sharp (pictured on the show) in ITV’s retelling of Victorian novel Vanity Fair which airs 171 years after it was published
‘This is utterly relevant to our generation – obsessed with celebrity and appearing to be rich and successful on social media.
‘Everyone in Vanity Fair is striving for wealth, for social standing. They all want to marry up, but they want things that aren’t worth having.’
The story takes us on a 17-year journey starting in 1813, encompassing wealth, poverty, love and death.
‘When you’re reading the book, you’re laughing, then it drops you down a hole of terrible sadness,’ says Gwyneth.
‘I love having the sad and funny banged up against each other, that’s life. This story asks, in a world of materialism and vanity, how can a person hang onto his soul?’
Beloved story: Vanity Fair was previously adapted in 1998 by the BBC and for film in 2004. In ITV’s seven-part series Becky (pictured with Rawdon Crawley played by Tom Bateman) talks directly to the audience through the camera
Though the message is serious the story is also fun, thanks to anti-heroine Becky Sharp.
‘Becky is probably the best character in British literature,’ says Martin Clunes, who plays one of her suitors and her eventual father-in-law, Sir Pitt Crawley.
‘She’s phenomenal. And Vanity Fair isn’t tied to a dated plot, like how well someone marries. It’s more interesting than that.’
When we meet Becky she’s a 19-year-old orphan whose mother was a French dancing girl and father a drunken artist.
She has to make her own way after being thrown out of her teaching job by cruel headmistress Miss Pinkerton, a role played with gusto by Suranne Jones. ‘Becky craves more than she has,’ says Olivia.
Love interest: Tom Bateman (pictured) stars as Rawdon Crawley who risks the fortune from his rich Aunt Matilda to marry Becky
Cast mates: Frances de la Tour (pictured left) stars as Miss Matilda Crawley alongside Martin Clunes as Sir Pitt Crawley (pictured right) who Becky flirts with as she rises in society
‘She’s stuck in a class system she can’t penetrate. But her confidence is ferocious, she’s determined to break through that glass ceiling.
‘The only option is to marry above her station. Becky is very tenacious, very manipulative because she has to be. She’s a survivor.’
Vanity Fair has been adapted many times, most recently by the BBC in 1998 with Natasha Little as the scheming heroine and in a 2004 film with Reese Witherspoon.
This new version is made by Mammoth Screen, the production company behind Poldark.
Becky takes the audience on the journey with her by talking directly to them through the camera.
‘One intention was to bring in people who don’t normally like period dramas,’ says director James Strong. ‘It feels modern, and Becky appealing to you makes you more on her side.’
In great contrast to Becky is her friend Amelia Sedley (Claudia Jessie), whose own adventures are intertwined with the heroine’s.
Bringing Waterloo back to life
The Battle of Waterloo in 1815 is a pivotal moment in the book. Although Thackeray doesn’t take us onto the battlefield, the producers of the series decided they wanted a taste of the action.
‘It’s an important part of the story, it would be remiss of us not to show it in all its glory,’ says director James Strong.
‘I wanted to put our characters right in the middle of it so you could see what it was like to be there.
‘You’ve got cannons firing at you, people being blown up, horses charging at you.’
British soldiers (pictured) helping a wounded comrade in one of the Waterloo scenes which took five days to shoot
In fact, 50 trained Spanish horses were used for the five-day shoot. ‘These horses are actors,’ says production designer Anna Pritchard.
‘They could rear, stumble and fall on command, they were taught amazingly well.’
Finding the right location to recreate the battle proved difficult. The field needed a slope, which the Duke of Wellington used to hide some of his troops, and an elm tree, which he stood under as he watched the battle.
‘We searched high and low for the right field with the right trees and the right type of slope,’ says Anna. ‘We found one near Reading.’
Four hundred supporting artists went through a Napoleonic war boot camp learning how to march, use a bayonet, hold a rifle and fire a cannon.
For the actors, it was an experience they won’t ever forget. ‘It was one of the most exciting weeks I’ve ever had,’ says Charlie Rowe, whose character George Osborne is in the thick of it.
‘We were lying flat on the ground as this army of Napoleonic soldiers walked through the smoke towards us. It was completely terrifying. You can only imagine what it would’ve been like for real.’
Horses were used in other scenes too, and Martin Clunes, who plays Sir Pitt Crawley, relished taking the reins.
‘I have Clydesdale horses and I drive them, so the producers were happy for me to drive the carriages.
‘It’s completely fired me up – I’ve ordered a state-of-the-art new wagonette from Germany.’
Amelia lives an upper middle-class life engaged to her childhood sweetheart George Osborne. Everyone loves her, including George’s best friend William Dobbin.
As Becky rises in society, she flirts with Amelia’s pompous brother Jos and Sir Pitt Crawley, in whose house she works as a governess.
She marries Sir Pitt’s son Rawdon, while Amelia’s parents lose all their money, making George turn away from her.
‘We have an image of what we want life to be like and for Amelia, it’s with George,’ says Claudia.
‘It would be easy to see her as wet, but she’s also an incredibly complex human being.’
Whirl of a time!
Filming took place at more than 30 different locations, from the heart of central London to Budapest in Hungary.
The mansion Lancaster House filled in for St James’s Palace, while the big funfair at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens – the place to be in the early 1800s – was shot at Syon Park, west London.
Michael Palin pictured as Thackeray narrates the opening of each episode
‘The funfair scenes were beautiful,’ recalls Olivia Cooke, who plays Becky.
‘The gardens were transformed with fire-breathers, tightrope walkers, and a hot-air balloon. It was magical to film.’
Each episode begins with Thackeray narrating a scene on a carousel.
The carousel used dates from 1860 and belongs to a collector, who dismantled it all then set it up again at Syon Park.
In the book, Thackeray praises and criticises his characters in equal measure. Gwyneth brought this into her version, with Thackeray – played by Michael Palin (who loves Vanity Fair so much he chose it for his book on Desert Island Discs) – moralising at the start of each episode as his characters rise and fall on a carousel.
‘Thackeray writes as if they are his puppets,’ says Michael. ‘I think of him looking down at them thinking, “Aren’t they silly?”’
Indeed, no one comes off well. Rawdon Crawley (Tom Bateman) is brave, risking the fortune from his rich Aunt Matilda (Frances de la Tour) to marry Becky – but also greedy and dim.
Aunt Matilda, despite seeing herself as egalitarian, is disgusted when her nephew marries the daughter of a dancing girl.
George Osborne (Charlie Rowe) is snobbish, but naïve and kind too. Even William Dobbin (Johnny Flynn), the unlikely hero, has his failings.
And Becky isn’t as good at conniving as she seems. ‘She’s actually a bit rubbish at scheming. She gets it wrong a lot,’ says Gwyneth.
The series itself has every luxury Becky could wish for. Around 2,000 stunning costumes were created, many including corsets.
‘Those were stifling,’ says Olivia Cooke. ‘We’d be in them for 13-14 hours.’ In the series, the dresses change from drapey Grecian looks to oriental-inspired outfits, echoing the changing fashions.
‘Our costume designer did a fantastic job of focusing on the characters,’ says Olivia. ‘Amelia’s costumes start in pinks, blues and yellows, but she’s drained of colour as she takes a fall.’
Becky’s colours get progressively richer but her one staple is an old Mary Poppins-style tapestry bag, which she takes everywhere.
‘She has all her worldly goods in that bag,’ says production designer Anna Pritchard.
So will that battered bag be Becky’s only possession by the end, when wars have been fought on the battlefield and in the bedroom? Or will she ensnare the riches and status she seeks?
Audiences may find themselves hoping that, wicked as she is, Becky comes out on top.
‘None of us knows what a good or bad person is,’ says Claudia Jessie. ‘In real life we’re all brilliant and a bit rubbish. In Vanity Fair, everyone messes up.’
Vanity Fair starts on ITV early next month.
Intense: Claudia Jessie who plays Amelia Sedley believes Vanity Fair is like real life as everyone messes up, and viewers may support Becky (pictured centre right) despite her cunning nature
Who’s Who: The low-down on the lovers and the losers in Vanity Fair
BECKY SHARP (Olivia Cooke) A penniless orphan who’s determined to climb up the ranks of British society.
AMELIA SEDLEY (Claudia Jessie) All Becky’s friend wants in life is to wed her childhood sweetheart George.
JOS SEDLEY (David Fynn) Amelia’s brother is the first man Becky tries to ensnare. He’s vain and pompous – but rich.
GEORGE OSBORNE (Charlie Rowe) A snob, he does love his intended, Amelia, but loves himself more. He takes his friend Dobbin for granted.
WILLIAM DOBBIN (Johnny Flynn) George’s best friend is in love with Amelia. But he is so selfless, almost to the point of masochism.
RAWDON CRAWLEY (Tom Bateman) A dashing soldier, he is fond of women, horses and gambling – funded by his Aunt Matilda.
SIR PITT CRAWLEY (Martin Clunes) Rawdon’s boorish father falls for Becky after she’s taken on as a governess for his young girls.
MISS MATILDA CRAWLEY (Frances de la Tour) She’s rich and enjoys being fawned over.
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