Great Expectations (TV mini-series)

Rating: 5 out of 5 somersaults.

The BBC’s lavish production of ‘Great Expectations,’ which finished airing last night on PBS, was both breathtaking and spine-chilling. I watched it in December when it fist aired here in the UK and absolutely loved it.

The clean cinematography made the programme visually stunning and greatly aided the director, Brian Kirk, in bringing his new take on Dickens’ classic story to life.

The acting was also out of the ordinary. The series got off to a sumptuous start with wide-angle shots of a gloomy swamp, which looked like a clip from a horror film. The steel, unsaturated look captured perfectly the squirmish feelings which I had when I read the opening chapter of the novel. I also found Orlick and Magwitch to be suitably vile.

Gillian Anderson, who played the infamous Miss Havisham, did a wonderful job. The forty-three year old actress is the youngest to have ever played the part; therefore, she was naturally put under the spotlight by critics. I found that her youthful portrayal of the old woman was fresh as she showed that Miss Havisham may old in her mind after refusing to leave Satis House on her wedding day, but truthfully she is young in spirit. She represents the destruction love can make on the young and passionate. Her frail white hair and lips, paired with her soft, eery voice made me shiver. Anderson is not unknown to Dickens adaptations, and she may be familiar to you as Lady Dedlock from Bleak House (2005).

Douglas Booth, who played Pip as a young man, was praised by the press for his accomplished acting; however, many disagree as to whether he was right for the part. Some said that he was too good-looking to play Pip, even more so than Estella, who was played by Vanessa Kirby. Since Estella is meant to be a heart-breaker, they argue that she should be stunning compared to a more ordinary-looking protagonist, Pip. For myself, I cannot see how casting the Burberry model/actor should make the series any less agreeable. It just reinforces the stylised take Kirk has made on the novel and adds to the sense of fantasy which Dickens created.  The adaptation involves a lot of an artist playing around and experimenting, and I think it paid off.

The only major turn-off for me was the gory scenes of violence; however, Dickens used strong references to violence in his plot lines, anyway. The BBC did not invent Victorian England! Besides, I’m a squirmer and can’t stand that kind of thing, so it might not bother some others.

Overall I thought the production was fantastic. It was extravagantly done and on the cinematography alone, I would give it a rating of five somersaults. Add in Douglas Booth’s chiselled cheek-bones and Gillian Anderson’s hair-raising presence, and you have me on board.

My thoughts on the book are recorded here.

STL.

Photos: BBC

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Thoughts on Reading ‘Great Expectations’

Last weekend, one of my favourite screen adaptations from last year visited the televisions of those of you over the pond. Great Expectations continues on PBS this weekend, starring Gillian Anderson, Douglas Booth and others. After you have all finished watching the final episodes, I’ll post my review.  Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on the novel itself…

Miss Havisham

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in the BBC's Great Expectations. Photo: BBC

I read the book a few months ago and thought that it would make sense to post my reflections on one of Charles Dickens’ most famous pieces of work. I am no expert on Charles Dickens, nor do I pretend to be, so please read my thoughts with that in mind – these are simply my meanderings.

Great Expectations

Rating: 4 out of 5 somersaults.

Favourite character: Herbert Pocket

Least favourite character: Orlick

A favourite quotation:

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are the rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.”

(Warning: Spoilers)

Although Dickens wrote about the grim skyline of London in the 19th century, he added sparkle and wit paired with mystery and suspense to make the novel an enjoyable read, despite the often strange and eerie atmosphere which was intentionally created. The narration was wonderful and I particularly enjoyed the humorous aspects of the dialogue; for instance, the cautious Mr Wemmick and Pip visiting his “castle” and the charmingly hilarious occasions when Joe and the young Pip were learning how to spell. I loved this moment when the young Pip, dreaming of becoming apprenticed to Joe, wrote a message for him on his slate:

“MI DEER JO i OPE U R KR WITE WELL i OPE i SHAL SON B HABELL 4 2 TEEDGE U JO AN THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN i M PRENGTD 2 U JO WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME INF XN PIP.” […]

“Astonishing!” said Joe, when I had finished. “You ARE a scholar.”

Towards the end, I admit that the protagonist, Pip, was starting to get on my nerves. I found his character frustrating because he simply could not see that Estella was manipulative, spoilt and abhorrent. He might have been blinded by love, but I thought he was just blind altogether. I found the villains of the story creepy and gruesome; however, they were the ones who kept me turning the pages as I needed to make sure that “the good ended happily, and the bad ended unhappily. That is what fiction means,” (to quote the omniscient Miss Prism).

After reading the novel, I felt extremely dissatisfied with the ending. Did Estella deserve Pip? No. My immediate reaction was that I wished Pip had fallen in love with Biddy and ended up marrying her; however, I gradually saw the flaws with this proposed ending. Firstly, Biddy was too nice for Pip, who was too materialistic and bad with money. Joe, although described as “the village idiot,” was at least honest and kind-hearted. The only satisfactory ending for me was the marriage between the colourful Herbert Pocket and the sweet (but boring) Clara Barley.

I have also read that the original ending was written so that Estelle married again and Pip was left alone and single. Would this have been more appropriate? I think it would. I do not believe that Estella deserved him, and in many ways, Pip did not deserve her. If they had married, things would not have ended well. Pip sees everything surrounding her as rose-tinted, and he fails to see reality. Estella, on the other hand, is too obnoxious and cruel. Ultimately, we are meant to feel that she has changed and moved on, but I am still left with doubts.

I realise that Great Expectations is not a romantic novel; it is a story full of villains, heroes, humorous storylines, twists and subplots. This is Dickens, not Austen. Yet, if they are definitely not going to marry ‘happily ever after,’ why does the author have to waver between a half-hearted marriage used as a simple plot device, and one which would be miserably depressing, yet more dramatic. Personally, endings have a bigger dramatic impact if they are definite, not ambiguous. Apparently, Dickens’ publishers complained that the original ending was too sad; however, Great Expectations is a sombre book in many respects and I think that it would have fitted in more with the novel as a whole.

I hope that you do not think that I am being too negative. Let me reassure you, although there were some things which I found frustrating about the novel, I read through it with great enthusiasm and animation. I have given it 4/5 somersaults because it is a brilliant work of fiction on a completely different level to other (dare I say, contemporary?) books. I loved it; however, I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed reading Little Dorrit where Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam were more amiable characters than Pip and Estella, I found.

What were your thoughts? Have I got it completely wrong? (I might have.) I’d love to hear your opinions, too.

STL.

Edit: See here for thoughts on the BBC’s adaptation (2011).