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BBC’s Bodyguard goes head-to-head with ITV’s Vanity Fair

Bodyguard versus Vanity Fair: BBC and ITV shows go head-to-head but will the high octane thriller or the decadent drama win over Sunday night viewers?

Opulence was pitted against fire and flesh last night in the battle of the Sunday TV drama.

ITV’s lavish adaptation of Vanity Fair competed for viewers in a head-to-head with the BBC’s Bodyguard.

The Napoleonic-era series features flirtatious social climber Becky Sharp played by Olivia Cooke, while the BBC’s high octane political thriller stars Keeley Hawes as a headstrong Home Secretary targeted by assassins.

Flatterer: The Napoleonic-era series features flirtatious social climber Becky Sharp played by Olivia Cooke, pictured with Captain Crawley

Seduction: Keeley Hawes and her bodyguard. Bodyguard drew 6.5million viewers for its second adrenalin-fuelled episode


Scare: Her lover, Richard Madden, flares up. Hoping to see off the competition, Bodyguard ramped up the drama last night

Bodyguard drew 6.5million viewers for its second adrenalin-fuelled episode but yesterday’s first instalment of Vanity Fair may have dented audience figures for the third – as both shows went out at 9pm.

Hoping to see off the competition, Bodyguard ramped up the drama last night.


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Scottish heartthrob Richard Madden, who plays David Budd, protection officer to the Home Secretary, bared his behind while sneaking out of bed to snoop on his boss. 

Madden, 32, has quickly become the BBC’s new hunk, filling the boots left by The Night Manager’s Tom Hiddleston and Poldark’s Aidan Turner.

The episode saw Budd continue his relationship with Miss Hawes’s character Julie Montague in a series of steamy trysts. 

Terror: The assassins’ bomb detonates. The sinister themes continued when the Home Secretary suffered another assassination attempt

Cliffhanger: Miss Hawes after the blast. She is delivering a speech about plans to increase surveillance powers when a bomb is detonated, causing her and Budd to be thrown into the air

However, at one point, the former army officer, suffering from PTSD following time in Afghanistan, attempts to strangle her after she wakes him in the night – before he realises who she is.

The sinister themes continued when the Home Secretary suffered another assassination attempt. She is delivering a speech about plans to increase surveillance powers when a bomb is detonated, causing her and Budd to be thrown into the air. He is seen crawling through debris to reach the minister, whose charred body appears lifeless.

Destined to become this autumn’s must-watch drama, Bodyguard was created by the BBC’s star writer, Jed Mercurio. He was also responsible for Line of Duty, which starred Miss Hawes, 42, as well as medical series Bodies.

It remains to be seen how ITV’s latest big hitter fares, but the competition may be stiff – the production company behind Vanity Fair is the same one that created favourites Poldark and Victoria. 

Even Robbie can’t stop X Factor’s ratings slide 

With a new judging line-up, Simon Cowell was hoping to put some sparkle back into his talent show.

But even Robbie Williams failed to draw in a bigger audience for The X Factor as just 5.4million tuned into its launch show on Saturday night. It was 100,000 fewer than for last year’s programme – making it the smallest audience for a first episode since the show started in 2004. It comes despite the BBC’s rival show Strictly Come Dancing not starting until this Saturday.

Strictly boasted an average audience of 8.8million viewers for its first episode last year. The X Factor – which was still the most watched show on Saturday evening with 34 per cent of the audience share – has One Direction star Louis Tomlinson, Robbie Williams and his wife Ayda Field as new judges for the 2018 series.

Let me entertain you: Robbie Williams and wife Ayda Field on The X Factor 

‘A glorious carousel of snobbery, scheming and decadence’: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews ITV’s new Sunday night drama Vanity Fair

VANITY FAIR 

Rating:

One flashing glance from the dark brown eyes of Olivia Cooke lays bare all the ambitions of the ultimate social climber, Becky Sharp, in Vanity Fair (ITV).

Becky aims to soar into the uppermost classes and damn what anyone says about her. She’s going to rule the world.

Vanity Fair, this autumn’s major costume production, is very different from BBC 1’s rival drama Bodyguard, which stars Keeley Hawes as a hot-to-trot Home Secretary.

But both shows are about women intent on being in charge, and who are prepared to trample over men to achieve that.

Stunning: One flashing glance from the dark brown eyes of Olivia Cooke lays bare all the ambitions of the ultimate social climber, Becky Sharp, in Vanity Fair (ITV)

Becky Sharp, however, is a great deal more subtle than Miss Hawes’ character and her strategy is to flatter, tease and smooch any eligible bachelor within range to get what she wants.

This glorious period drama, set in the London of Napoleonic times, is based on one of the greatest novels in literature – William Makepeace Thackeray’s sprawling portrait of a decadent society where snobbery is rampant and the upper classes worship money.

Becky is the orphaned daughter of an artist, so penniless and low-born that even the servants sneer at her. The story is a whirling cavalcade, a colourful and tumultuous rush through the Georgian era 200 years ago.

This adaptation began with Michael Palin, as Thackeray, snapping his fingers to start a carousel – his characters shrieking and clinging on while music blares and circus acrobats breathe fire. That captured the tone perfectly. Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes stays faithful to the original but concentrates only on the key scenes.

That leaves us space to watch Becky at her scheming, the cogs of her mind whizzing as she calculates who to fool, who to gratify and who to ignore.


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Cooke has just the face for it, with a mouth that pulls a sour pout when she thinks no one is looking, and eyes that can turn stony if she’s thwarted. The other chief characters are played by comparatively new names, and they all began strongly in this opening episode, especially Johnny Flynn as the stuttering, clumsy Captain Dobbin.

For all its noise and gaudy spectacle, Vanity Fair is a tale about human psychology. The characters are parading in their finery, but we’re interested chiefly in what they are thinking… and plotting.

This production understands this, which is why Becky keeps shooting little challenges at the camera. ‘You don’t believe me?’ her eyes tease. ‘Do you think I’m a hypocrite?’

Part of the fun is that Becky believes she’s better at this social game than anyone else. She knows she’s smarter and wittier than her enemies – and that’s why she sometimes underestimates them.

Martin Clunes plays a grubby-minded landowner and MP, Sir Pitt Crawley. He claims that when learning his lines for Vanity Fair, he didn’t fancy ploughing through all 67 chapters and 850 pages.

So he downloaded the novel on to his smartphone and read only the paragraphs where his character’s name popped up. The actor jokes that as far as he knows, there are no other people in the book.

He was in for a shock. Vanity Fair has a cast that reads like a Who’s Who of the British stage and screen. Already we’ve seen Suranne Jones, Simon Russell Beale, Claire Skinner and Michael Palin, with Frances de la Tour, Robert Pugh and Mathew Baynton due to appear tonight.

But Vanity Fair can succeed only if it resists the temptation to rattle along like ITV’s other smash-hit costume dramas, Downton Abbey and Victoria, with their 20-second scenes and high-speed editing.

One trick is to give us plenty to look at in every tableau. Director James Strong uses arty techniques, gazing at Becky in a discoloured mirror, or capturing the play of sunlight on her face as she spies on a young man who has caught her eye. Another method, used rather too much in current dramas, is to play a slow, dreamy version of a rock classic while nothing much happens onscreen. Vanity Fair opened with an ethereal cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower while the carousel turned.

This could have been awful. Instead, it was just brief enough to be atmospheric.

The cleverest trick is to drench the screen in colour.

Every scene appears to be painted: in one, Becky and her pretend-best-friend Amelia (Claudia Jessie) wore pastels, and the room seemed shrouded in mist.

In another, at the infamous Vauxhall pleasure gardens, Amelia’s boozy brother Jos (David Fynn) wore a waistcoat woven with red and gold to reflect the fire jugglers.

Cap’n Ross took Demelza to those pleasure gardens in the last series of Poldark, but they didn’t find half the raucous debauchery that Becky saw. Perhaps they went on the wrong night.

The streetwalkers lounging and winking at the edges of the crowds all seemed to know drunken Jos. I think we can assume he was one of their regulars. There’s a lot going on wherever you look in Vanity Fair. 

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