Vanity Fair Episode 5 had some highlights, but it spent too much time on battles and not enough on a rushed latter half.
Vanity Fair Episode 5 spent at least half of its running time at the Battle of Waterloo; the English tussled with the French and redcoats were skewered and insults were tossed at the Duke of Wellington. George Osborne (Charlie Rowe) took a fatal bullet and the Napoleonic Wars came to a close.
That’s a lot to get through in just half an hour, but Vanity Fair is probably the wrong show in which to get through it. So much cavalry, so many bugles and muskets and suchlike – is that what people tuned in to Vanity Fair Episode 5 to see? I doubt it. And it had the unfortunate consequence of leaving Becky Sharp (Olivia Cooke) mostly to her own devices, and creating a rush-job time-skipping second half in which everyone had kids and the kids grew up with barely a second spared for any of it.
Becky’s plan during the battle was to peddle horses to the rich ladies who wanted out of Belgium, which went well enough. Her plan upon returning to England is a bit more luck-dependent; with her and Rawdon (Tom Bateman) thoroughly excised from the late Lady Matilda’s will, the only way they get to keep their nice new crib is if Rawdon hustles the upper-crust at cards while Becky serenades them with French songs. They’re playing to their strengths, at least.
But this does lead to the neglect of their son, who is suddenly born and, in the final ten minutes, suddenly grows up. It’s a major leap forward for the narrative and it’s handled terribly. Showing us nothing of the intervening years just made the back half of Vanity Fair Episode 5 feel like an episode had been skipped, and we got no sense of Becky’s new role as a mother beyond the fact that she clearly doesn’t care for it.
Amelia (Claudia Jessie), on the other hand, cares for it very much indeed, which makes it all the more galling when her late husband’s father turns up with an offer: For a generous allowance, the kid can go and live with him. Amelia is, of course, having none of this, but her parents think it’s a good idea. And Osborne Senior (Robert Pugh) hardly seems the type to take rejection lying down, especially since he made his distaste for Amelia very obvious to Major William Dobbin (Johnny Flynn), who remains the most likeable bloke on telly.
Vanity Fair Episode 5 leaves ITV’s period drama in a weird place, then, having skipped over a great deal of time that would have presumably been interesting to see. Perhaps it’s just a way of repositioning the series for the next part of Becky Sharp’s story (I haven’t read William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel), but either way it didn’t work all that well. Luckily Olivia Cooke’s considerable charm remains undeniable, and this remains her show through and through. Perhaps next week we’ll get to see more of her.