What Happens To Becky Sharpe At The End Of Vanity Fair?

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios.
Warning: Spoilers for Amazon Prime’s Vanity Fair adaptation ahead.
Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel about a woman determined to claw her way up the social ladder, was originally sub-titled: “A novel without a hero.” And in a way, that’s true. No one really comes out a winner in this story, nor is anyone particularly altruistic. But there’s something so delicious about a female-driven story that allows its protagonist to be genuinely devious without judging her.
Enter Becky Sharp, the ambitious and quick-witted status seeker who transgresses so many of the staid conventions of 19th century women.
Maybe that’s why, over the years, actresses — including, famously, Reese Witherspoon —  have clamored to play her. The latest on screen adaptation of the novel comes courtesy of Amazon Prime Video, and stars Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds, Ready Player One) as Becky. Written by Gwyneth Hughes’, the seven-part series follows our Queen-Bee-in-training from a destitute artist’s daughter, to governess, through the Battle of Waterloo, and into the center of social life during the reign of King George IV, before it all spectacularly falls apart.
Becky is self-centered, shrewd, and calculating. She schemes, and plots and acts out. She’s the kind of girl one who goes to a party where she’s never met a single person and leaves as the queen bee. And though she can be heartless and cruel, that’s part of the fun. Who needs a hero when you have such a rich and complex rule-breaker?
“Becky is the embodiment of everything that you're dying and desperate to do,” Cooke told Refinery29 in an interview. “She's a survivor, so she's desperately trying to crawl herself out of whatever nest that she's got herself into and trying to make the best of it. But that's very enviable in someone, especially a woman: anything can come out and be wrong and [she] doesn't really care for how she's seen or how it affects the other person. There’s something really enticing about that.”
It’s a role that echoes Emma Stone’s in The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos’ sophisticated satire of 18th century British court life. Like Becky, Abigail is a social climber, a woman who knows what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it. Both Vanity Fair and The Favourite also refuse to present us with just one villain — as in life, our allegiances shift from one character to the next, and back again.
“Oh my god I love that movie, it's so amazing,” Cooke exclaims when I ask if she's seen it. “I watched it, and my boyfriend [editor’s note: Cooke is rumored to be dating former co-star Christopher Abbott] was like, ‘Are you jealous that you're not Emma Stone?’ And I was like, ‘Shut up.’”
Cooke says she purposefully didn’t try to adopt the stuffy mannerisms or attitudes usually ascribed to that era, because, as she points out, those accounts are all very male-focused.
“We can go off literature, we can go off of art, but these are all penned and created by men and what they see women to be. I really wanted to free myself out of this kind of social constraints of how you're supposed to conduct yourself. I think also it just makes it a little bit more accessible to a modern audience as well.”
In Cooke's hands, Becky feels fresh, like a girl you might recognize from your own high school class. She laughs, she flirts, she cajoles and manipulates, and sometimes, she breaks the fourth wall to tell us about it. But her take on Becky isn’t the only thing that’s different about this particular adaptation.
The book’s ending is pretty straightforward. After the death of her husband, Rawdon Crawley, and her subsequent estrangement from her son, Becky ends up in the town of Pumpernickel, Germany (also known as Weimar), working in a casino. Little does she know that her former best friend Amelia is vacationing there with her son George (named for his father, George Osborne, who died at Waterloo earlier in the story), her brother Jos, and friend, Major Dobbin.
In her one act of altruism, Becky manages to convince Amelia that her late husband, whom she still worships, was a hopeless flirt who was getting ready to leave her before his sudden death in battle. Dobbin is the one that has really loved her all this time! This comes as a surprise to no one but Amelia, and she and Dobbin finally get together, giving him the only real happy ending in this story. Becky meanwhile, marries Jos, and the two keep living in Europe until he meets an early death as well — but not before taking out a life insurance policy guaranteeing his wife an income for life. Under this cloud of suspicion, Becky returns to England, where she lives out the remainder of her years, friendless, but financially comfortable.
The show, on the other hand, wraps things up a little differently. The impromptu Pumpernickel meeting still happens, and Amelia (Claudia Jessie) and Dobbin (Johnny Flynn) do end up together. But this time, Becky’s fate is up to the viewer.
As with each episode, “Endings and Beginnings,” opens and closes with Thackeray himself (played by Michael Palin) giving us a little tour of the Vanity Fair, complete with bright costumes, fireworks and a huge carousel, and then recapping the episode. “None of us is every happy in this world, except of course the Major,” he says in his final address: “Content at last. And he deserves it doesn’t he? Not one of us — none of us ever get what we want. And when we do, it’s not enough. I have no other moral than this to tag to my story.”
Suddenly, Becky bursts out of the crowd, Jos in tow, and runs towards the carousel, laughing. “What’s this?” Thackeray exclaims! “Nobody is supposed to be enjoying themselves. Nobody’s supposed to come out well from my Vanity Fair! Becky, come back here!”
The show ends, not with Becky’s slow demise, but with her open-mouthed glee as she rides round and round, thrilled by the chase of a new adventure. That’s her happy ending, which seems to be encouraged by Thackeray as he tips her hat to her, smiling at his creation.
“I genuinely think that her pursuit of wealth and status is where [Becky]’s most happy,” Cooke said. “She loves that life, and I think if she even stops for a second there's always something that's going to capture her eye.”
Becky can’t be molded — and that in itself is heroic enough.

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