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

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).

Let’s Riverdance on St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

To mark the occasion, I thought that I would share my two favourite clips from Riverdance, the fantastic Irish dance company.

Finally, Prodijig are a dance troop from Got to Dance who may not be so familiar but, with a modern twist, they are also exceedingly impressive.

Don’t forget to look out for a four-leaf clover.

STL.

Awesome Adverts from the UK

I just saw this advert on TV, featuring Stephan Fry, Rupert Grint, Julie Walters and Michelle Dockery, and now have an urge to visit the Giant’s Causeway after seeing Michelle elegantly poised on the rough basalt columns of rock.  I loved Julie’s reference to Wordsworth, too (I’m reading his poetry so it made me feel clever).  So very British.

It’s definitely up there, rivalling California.

Also, check out this ad. celebrating the best of British comedy – it has a song!

Adverts with songs in them are always the best.  Especially if it’s legendary, like the 118 advert.

Epic.

Another one of my favourites is the Johnnie Walker ad. from a few years ago because I can’t imagine how many takes they must have done to film it perfectly.

STL.

New Sherlock Holmes and She-Watson

CBS announced last week that they have decided to create a modern, updated version of the tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless hero called Elementary, probably inspired by the roaring success of the BBC’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.  The new American series will be set in New York and they’ve already cast the British actor, Jonny Lee Miller (Eli Stone, 2008-9) and Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels, 2000) as Joan Watson, his female accomplice.  This decision has set the Sherlock fanbase alight and everyone seems to be tearing their hair out…

Lucy Liu (Image from WIkipedia)

Lucy Liu has been cast as Joan Watson in the new American Sherlock Holmes series (Image from WIkipedia)

Holmes will be an ex-British Police consultant, brought to NYC to a drug-rehabilitation centre.  He has returned from rehab and is living with Joan Watson, a surgeon who has lost her medical licence.

On the one hand, it will be hard not to compare it to the BBC’s modern adaptation which was made extraordinarily well.  It also sounds vaguely familiar for those who watch Castle and other such programmes.  Some say that because Watson might become a love interest for Holmes, the producers might be tempted to swerve away from the original books too much, or even that it would become disrespectful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s memory as he firmly disbelieved that there were any romantic feelings between the pair.  He wrote about an incredible friendship; however, will the CBS writers be able to recreate the same dynamics after such a controversial change?  Why didn’t they make Sherlock a woman, too?  A female Holmes and Watson team could rival Charlie’s Angels any day…

Johnny Lee Miller

Jonny Lee Miller will play Holmes

However, on a positive note, they’ve certainly got the casting right.  Jonny Lee Miller is a British actor who was great in two of my favourite TV mini-series and films, Emma, 2009 and Mansfield Park, 1999.  Lucy Liu is a brilliant actress, already well established in the action/crime genre.  Casting is critical and this certainly balances out any doubts which I have.

There’s just a hint of hypocrisy amongst the angry Holmes-loving fans; when the plans for the programme were first made public, almost everyone was upset that the Elementary would be too similar to the BBC’s, now they are upset that it will be too different?  Yes, it could fail spectacularly or become an instant success, but it has not come out yet!

Johnny Lee Miller (Image from the BBC)

Jonny Lee Miller played Knightley in Emma, 2009 (Image from the BBC)

I’m excited to see how this classic adaptation with a modern twist pans out.  After all, the BBC’s Sherlock may not continue forever as I’m sure the stars will want to move on to brighter screens eventually. Cumberbatch seems to be rising rapidly in popularity; after Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, I’m sure that Hollywood is calling.  I’ve also heard rumours that Cumberbatch could be in Doctor Who, perhaps as The Master??

STL.

Oscars 2012 – Winners

Congratulations to all of those involved with the production of The Artist! What a winner! Hope you all enjoyed that funny video which I posted along with the nominations. Here is a great post which summarises who the winners were and features some glamorous pictures from the night.
STL.

The Happiest Cow

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Winners from the Oscars 2012

Best Picture: The Artist

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Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist

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Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

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Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help

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Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

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Directing: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

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Cinematography: Hugo

Art Direction: Hugo

Costume Design: The Artist

Makeup: The Iron Lady

Foreign Language Film: A Separation, Iran.

Film Editing: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Sound Editing: Hugo

Sound Mixing: Hugo

Documentary Feature: Undefeated

Animated Feature Film: Rango

Visual Effects: Hugo

Original Score: The Artist

Original Song: Man or Muppet from The Muppets

Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants

Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Live Action Short Film: The Shore

Documentary (short subject): Saving Face

Animated Short Film: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore

Mooooo

xxx

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The Oscars 2012 – No Harry Potter for Best Picture?

Will you be tuning in to watch the Oscars tonight?  Who do you think will win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress?   Who will you be rooting for?

Here are the nominations:

BEST PICTURE

War Horse

The Tree of Life

The Artist

Moneyball

The Descendants

Midnight in Paris

The Help

Hugo

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

BEST DIRECTOR

Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist

Alexander Payne – The Descendants

Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris

Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life

BEST ACTOR

Jean Dujardin – The Artist

Demian Bichir – A Better Life

Brad Pitt – Moneyball

George Clooney – The Descendants

Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

BEST ACTRESS

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis – The Help

Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams – My Week With Marilyn

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Kenneth Branagh – My Week With Marilyn

Jonah Hill – Moneyball

Nick Nolte – Warrior

Christopher Plummer – Beginners

Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Berenice Bejo – The Artist

Jessica Chastain – The Help

Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer – The Help

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Bullhead – Belgium

Footnote – Israel

In Darkness – Poland

Monsieur Lazhar – Canada

A Separation – Iran

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius

Bridesmaids – Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig

Margin Call – JC Chandor

Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen

A Separation – Asghar Farhadi

BEST ANIMATION

A Cat in Paris

Chico and Rita

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

Rango

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Descendants – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Hugo – John Logan

The Ides of March – George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon

Moneyball – Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin.

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy – Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan

BEST ART DIRECTION

The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

War Horse

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Artist

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

The Tree of Life

War Horse

BEST SOUND MIXING

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

BEST SOUND EDITING

Drive

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Man or Muppet from The Muppets – music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie

Real in Rio from Rio – music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown and lyrics by Siedah Garrett

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The Adventures of Tintin

The Artist

Hugo

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

War Horse

BEST COSTUMES

Anonymous

The Artist

Hugo

Jane Eyre

W.E.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Hell and Back Again

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Pina

Undefeated

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement

God is the Bigger Elvis

Incident in New Baghdad

Saving Face

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

BEST FILM EDITING

The Artist

The Descendants

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

Moneyball

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Dimanche/Sunday

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore

La Luna

A Morning Stroll

Wild Life

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

Pentecost

Raju

The Shore

Time Freak

Tuba Atlantic

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo

Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

BEST MAKE-UP

Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The Iron Lady

I know who I’m cheering on!  Enjoy your popcorn!

STL.