Becky Sharp (film)

Becky Sharp is a 1935 American historical drama film directed by Rouben Mamoulian and starring Miriam Hopkins who was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. Other supporting cast were William Faversham, Frances Dee, Cedric Hardwicke, Billie Burke, Alison Skipworth, Nigel Bruce, and Alan Mowbray.

Becky Sharp
theatrical release poster
Directed byRouben Mamoulian
Produced byKenneth Macgowan
Rouben Mamoulian
Robert Edmond Jones
Screenplay byFrancis Edward Faragoh
Story byWilliam Makepeace Thackeray
Langdon Mitchell
StarringMiriam Hopkins
Frances Dee
Cedric Hardwicke
Music byRoy Webb William Faversham
CinematographyRay Rennahan
Edited byArchie Marshek
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
June 13, 1935 (1935-06-13)[1]
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States

The film is based on the play of the same name by Langdon Mitchell, which in turn was based on William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair. The play was made famous in the late 1890s by actress Minnie Maddern Fiske. The screenplay was written by Francis Edward Faragoh. The film was considered a landmark in cinema as the first feature film to use the newly developed three-strip Technicolor production throughout, opening the way for a growing number of color films to be made in Britain and the United States in the years leading up to World War II. In 2019, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[2]

The film recounts the tale of a lower-class girl who insinuates herself into an upper-class family, only to see her life and the lives of those around her destroyed.


Becky Sharp (Miriam Hopkins), a socially ambitious English young lady, manages to survive during the background years of Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The poor and low class Becky climbs the British social ladder through her best friend Amelia Sedley, praising any rich man who would listen.

In her efforts to advance herself, she manages to connect with a number of gentlemen: the Marquis of Steyne (Cedric Hardwicke), Joseph Sedley (Nigel Bruce), Rawdon Crawley (Alan Mowbray), and George Osborne (G. P. Huntley Jr), the husband of Amelia.

She rises to the top of British society and becomes the scourge of the social circle, offending the other ladies such as Lady Bareacres (Billie Burke). Sharp falls into the humiliation of singing for her meals in a beer hall, but she never stays down for long. At the end, she cons her last man and finally lands Amelia's brother, Joseph.



John Hay "Jock" Whitney and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney formed Pioneer Pictures specifically to produce color films, and signed a contract to release Pioneer films through RKO Radio Pictures.

After producing La Cucaracha, Becky Sharp, and Dancing Pirate (1936), the Whitneys and David O. Selznick formed Selznick International Pictures. Two Selznick International films, A Star Is Born and Nothing Sacred (both 1937), were produced by Selznick, copyrighted by Pioneer Pictures, and released through United Artists rather than RKO.

Lowell Sherman, the original director, had fallen ill while working on Night Life of the Gods before starting Becky Sharp, but had continued to work on the project; he died of double pneumonia four weeks into production.[3]

After Sherman's death, Rouben Mamoulian was brought in to finish the film. Mamoulian did not use any of the footage shot by Sherman, deciding instead to reshoot the entire film.[4]

Color development

Becky Sharp was the first feature film to use the three-strip Technicolor process, which created a separate film register for each of the three primary colors.[5]

Earlier live action films to use the new Technicolor process include the final musical number in the feature The Cat and the Fiddle released by MGM in February 1934, and in short sequences filmed for other movies made during 1934, including The House of Rothschild (Twentieth Century Pictures/United Artists) with George Arliss and Kid Millions (Samuel Goldwyn/United Artists) with Eddie Cantor. Warner Brothers released two Leon Errol shorts, Service with a Smile (July 28, 1934) and Good Morning, Eve! (September 22, 1934), and RKO Pictures released the short La Cucaracha (August 31, 1934).


Writing for The Spectator, Graham Greene raved that "colour is everything here" and characterizing its use in the film as "a triumph". Although Greene complained that the Technicolor "plays havoc with the women's faces", leveled criticism at Hopkins for her "indecisive acting", and noted that he had found the film's climax in Bath to be "absurd" and "silly", he described these minor complaints as "ungrateful" and his overall impression was that the film gave "delight to the eye".[6]

Awards and honors



  • Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Miriam Hopkins, 1935
  • Venice Film Festival: Mussolini Cup, Rouben Mamoulian, 1935

Preservation status

For many years, the original three-color Technicolor version of the film was not available for viewing, though a 16 millimeter version was available. This version had been printed (poorly) on two-color Cinecolor stock which did not accurately reproduce the colors of the original film. The smaller film stock also resulted in a grainier, inferior image.

In the 1980s, the UCLA Film and Television Archive restored the film, under the supervision of archivist Robert Gitt. Rouben Mamoulian appeared at the premiere of the restored print at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences theatre in Beverly Hills.


  1. Brown, Gene (1995). Movie Time: A Chronology of Hollywood and the Movie Industry from Its Beginnings to the Present. New York: Macmillan. p. 124. ISBN 0-02-860429-6. In New York, the film premiered at Radio City Music Hall.
  2. Chow, Andrew R. (December 11, 2019). "See the 25 New Additions to the National Film Registry, From Purple Rain to Clerks". Time. New York, NY. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
  3. "Lowell Sherman's Last". Variety. January 1, 1935. p. 2.
  4. "Becky Sharp: Detail View". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on April 3, 2014. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  5. Technicolor's earlier processes did not include a blue register, just green and red.
  6. Greene, Graham (July 19, 1935). "Becky Sharp/Public Hero No. 1/Barcarole". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. p. 8. ISBN 0192812866.)
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