Australian Council on Children and the Media

Vanity Fair

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Short takes

Not recommended under 13s, PG to 15 (Themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Vanity Fair
  • a review of Vanity Fair completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 6 October 2004.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Due to the mature nature of the content of this movie, it is not recommend for children under the age of thirteen.
Children aged 13-15 Children between the ages of thirteen to fifteen could see this film with parental guidance.
Children over the age of 15 Children over the age of 15 could see this film with or without parental guidance.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines.

Name of movie: Vanity Fair
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Adult themes, Low level violence
Length 141 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Vanity Fair is the story of Becky Sharp, a young, early 19th century woman, who is determined to rise above the low social status of her family and be accepted by England’s social elite. Her journey is intertwined with that of her close childhood friend, Amelia, who, although brought up in a well to do family, must later face many of the same social and economic situations that Becky does.

Becky begins her journey to fortune working as a governess for the family of Sir Pitt Crawley. Through her frankness, wit and charm she slowly wins the family over. Cantankerous Aunt Matilda is especially taken with her and invites her to London where Becky secretly marries her nephew Rawdon Crawley, heir to the vast family fortune. Rawdon goes off to war and when he returns learns that Aunt Matilda has died and that he has been disinherited. In attempting to maintain the lifestyle that they have been accustomed to Becky uses her feminine wiles and accepts assistance from the Marques de Styne who promises to help open doors to the highest ranks of society. Yet for his assistance Becky pays a heavy price and in many ways winds up losing more than she stood to gain.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

The few instances of violence in this film were all quite realistic.

  • William Dobbin wrestles an opponent to the ground and then chokes him for a few moments while being begged to stop.
  • A war is fought in Belgium. We do not see the war but instead see chaotic preparations for the war with lots of guns and soldiers running around. At one stage, we see frightened civilians trying to flee the city as the enemy approaches. Later we see the gory aftermath of the war with many bloodied bodies lying in the dirt.
  • Rawdon attacks The Marques de Styne. He grabs him, slams him into a wall, chokes him and throws him down the stairs. The Marques gets up looking ruffled and angry, but otherwise unhurt.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

Two of the above scenes in particular could potentially disturb young viewers:

  • the enemy approaching the city and civilians desperately trying to escape
  • the aftermath of the war where we are slowly taken across a gory battlefield covered by lifeless, bloody bodies.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group could also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Some older children could also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.

Over thirteeninfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Some older children could also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.

Sexual references

During one scene Rawdon and Becky are in bed, Rawdon is breathing heavily and sexual activity is implied.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • As is the style of that time, most of the female characters wore long dresses that were very low cut in the front, with a lot of cleavage. Occasionally the camera will focus on Becky’s chest.
  • Aunt Matilda gets up quickly from the bathtub and we see her naked backside.
  • The Marques de Styne organizes a sexy Indian style dance for the King, in which the ladies wear belly-dancing costumes, showing cleavage, bare midriffs and lots of leg.
  • The Marques de Styne rips Becky’s dress open, rubs the top of her chest, puts his hand on her leg and kisses her violently

Use of substances

Alcohol is widely used throughout the film:

  • Wine is served at nearly every meal and people are also seen drinking at balls, soirees, in gaming parlours etc.
  • Early on in the film we see some drunken men drinking on some steps in filthy conditions.
  • George is often encouraged to stop drinking. His friend William Dobbin encourages him to think of the consequences.
  • Becky is seen giving wine, as a tonic, to Matilda.
  • George is seen smoking on one occasion and later in the film some miscellaneous characters are also seen smoking.

Coarse language

There was no coarse language in the film, although a small amount of name-calling and other colourful phrases were used:

  • The elder Mr. Crawley called Becky a ‘little hussy.’
  • Becky was also called a ‘stupid wench’ and a ‘little minx.’
  • Other women in the film were occasionally referred to as ‘stupid cow’, ‘silly old tramp’ and ‘silly old fool.’
  • ‘For God’s sakes!’ was occasionally used.
  • ‘Damn’ was heard a number of times, such as in ‘ You’re a damn fool!’ and ‘Damn! My son is sick of you! There is no one in the house who does not wish you dead.’

In a nutshell

The main take-home message from Vanity Fair is that money can’t buy the things in life that are truly worth having. It also cautions us to be careful about what we wish for and how we go about getting it, because the final result may not be what we had hoped for.

Some issues and themes that parents may wish to discuss with their children are as follows:

  • Friendship and loyalty
  • The importance, or lack thereof, of being socially accepted
  • Can honour and self-respect be bought?
  • Greed
  • The true meaning of happiness, and is it really something that money can buy.

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