The cast of Vanity Fair, with Olivia Cooke as Becky Sharp in the centre

“This is Vanity Fair. A world where everyone is striving for what is not worth having”

William Makepeace Thackeray’s literary classic is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, following the young Becky Sharp as she attempts to claw her way out of poverty. 

Previously adapted for the small screen and as a film starring Reese Witherspoon, this new take on the novel is being brought to TV by the makers of Victoria and Poldark.

Vanity Fair is a story of “villainy, crime, merriment, jilting, laughing, cheating, fighting and dancing” that takes Becky to the court of King George IV and the Battle of Waterloo. 

Though on the surface it doesn’t sound like a modern tale, Becky’s attempts to raise herself up to the heights of English society have proved timeless. 

“Becky is incredibly modern in her tenacity,” says Olivia Cooke, who plays Becky. 

“She is completely manipulative and charming because she’s had to be. Becky is very astute and perceptive, even though she can come across as quite unemotional sometimes. She can read most people because she has had to do that. Becky is a survivor.”

Michael Palin as William Makepeace Thackeray

Probably considered quite scandalous in her own time, she is even more relatable now in a time of selfie culture and the rise of social media influencers. 

Monty Python legend Michael Palin plays the author in the new adaptation, introducing each episode to the audience. 

Palin told Radio Times the character of Becky is “so immoral, so calculating, so wilful and cruel – so attractive in a way”. 

He added that if she was around today, she would probably be on Love Island or working as President Trump’s press secretary.

“There’s no character in literature who’s quite like her,” he says.

Vanity Fair starts Sunday 23 September at 8.30pm on TVNZ 1.