I had great expectations for this BBC miniseries of my second-favorite Dickens novel (especially since my favorite one, Bleak House, was so spectacular). But there was much of this miniseries that I found off-putting. So, I’m going to start with the bad and work my way to the good (because there was definitely some great stuff in there, too).
The opening credits were droll (boring music and creepy insects) and, thus, turned me off immediately. The first hour (it’s a 3-hour miniseries) stayed pretty true to form. Ray Winstone’s Magwitch was frightening and Oscar Kennedy as Young Pip was dead on. They captured all the important moments of Part 1, but I still felt somewhat bored afterwards.
The downfall for me was the second hour. The story strays from the actual text and aggrandizes the relationship between Pip and Estella. I’ve long ago resigned myself to the fact that naïve Pip is in love with Estella (even though she’s heartless), but there were so many excessive scenes developing their relationship that it detracted from his other relationships with characters that would be more important later (eventually they did get their dues).
Pip, too, brought up issues for me. Pretty boy Douglass Booth (remember when he made out with Matt Smith?) plays the teenager Pip, but his Pip is more of a calculating one than how Dickens wrote him. This Pip turned all his suspicions (about his benefactor and betrothal to Estella) into inner truths as he climbed his way up the social ladder. In the book, Pip always had a clueless naiveté about him that endeared him to the reader; but Booth’s Pip just made me want to slap him in the face.
Fortunately, the third and final hour nearly makes up for the overall defects. They delve right into the mysteries and actions of the final third of the book, which make this story so great. And over that hour Pip truly learns his place and begins to think of others. Though a few stories were tweaked, the writer did a good job of building the suspense and action and bringing the story to a satisfying ending (though I’m never truly satisfied with the final moments of Great Expectations).
The true gem of this production, however, is Gillian Anderson. Her portrayal of Miss Havisham is unique and, dare I say, groundbreaking. She taps into a different aspect of Miss Havisham that we haven’t seen in previous incarnations. Usually depicted as withering old woman, Anderson gives “life” to this frozen bride. She affects a high-pitched speaking voice that reminded me that Miss Havisham is merely the young version of herself frozen in time like the rest of Satis House. She brings out the child in Miss Havisham that was jilted and turned into a bitter old woman. And in one of the truly greatest moments in the miniseries, Miss Havisham pauses with her arm next to a candle and I could hear the flame as if it were ready to reach out and grab her.
With a British film production of Great Expectations coming this year, I’m eager to see what their take on the novel is. I sincerely doubt Helena Bonham Carter’s Miss Havisham will bring any new revelations to the role, but I hope David Nicholls can writer a better screenplay for this than he did for One Day. Needless to say, you should probably just go buy the new Penguin Classics edition and read the story for yourself (since I know you probably just read the cliff notes in high school).