If there’s one thing the BBC knows how to do well, it’s adaptations of literary classics onto the small screen; take 1995′s Pride and Prejudice for example, an unexpected worldwide success that launched Colin Firth’s career. Christmas 2011 saw the Beeb produce a dark reinvention of a Charles Dickens classic, Great Expectations. Not that the book isn’t dark enough mind you. I remember receiving it as a present for Christmas when I was a kid and the opening pages scared the bejaysis out of me! So much so that I shamefully admit, I’ve never read Great Expectations, or indeed any Dickens all the way through. I do know the story quite well having had to study the novel in college (see, it is possible to bluff your way through Dickens kids – but don’t listen to me!). There’s a reason why Great Expectations has stood the test of time and in my humble opinion, it’s because of Miss Havisham. There I’ve said it. I can feel the eyes of Dickens afficionados everywhere boring into me as I type, but I think it’s true and the Beeb has pretty much backed me up here. *looks smug*
The cast is excellent, but Gillian Anderson stands out a mile as Miss Havisham the eerie, decaying eternal bride. An orphan, like Pip, she adopts a daughter, Estella and transforms the child into a cold-hearted young woman. Due to her own unfortunate jilting on her wedding day, Miss Havisham seeks to turn Estella into an implement that she can use to destroy the lives of men such as Pip. Surrounding herself in memories of her ill-fated wedding day, Havisham is a living fragment of an unfulfilled life, yet Anderson manages to make her a pitiable and tragic character despite her all-consuming bitterness. She mystifies, intrigues and intimidates Pip in equal measure. By allowing him to believe that she is his benefactress, and thus the catalyst for his transformation into a gentleman, Havisham devastates Pip by seemingly prepping him to marry her beloved “prize”, Estella but then, seemingly snatching her away. Anderson plays the role with a wonderful sense of macabre and loneliness infused within the character.
Douglas Booth, David Suchet and Ray Winstone turn in excellent performances as Pip, Abel Magwitch and Jaggers respectively. Admittedly, I fail to see what all the fuss about Booth is, although he is very believable as Pip and fails to be annoying as previous actors have been in the portrayal…Gerry Sundquist, I am looking at you.
Overall, Dickens’ parable of social ambition is expertly played by all involved and the story largely remains intact (they’ve omitted certain tiny details, such as the mice crawling through Miss Havisham’s rotting wedding cake. Fun!). I would recommend the Beeb’s adaptation wholeheartedly and will be obtaining the boxset upon its inevitable release. (Oh please let there be a special edition, please, please!)
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