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93 of 104 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Haunting Miss Havisham, March 22, 2012
This review is from: Masterpiece Classic: Great Expectations [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Some books are just purely cinematic. Great Expectations is one of them, with all the elements of a perfect gothic story: the mad woman, the creepy old house full of cobwebs and bitter memories, the stretch of the forge and the sinister man who arises from the mud to slam the young hero to the ground and threaten his life. This recent adaptation by the BBC is a visual masterpiece, full of understated and wonderful performances, as atmospheric a tale as Charles Dickens could have imagined.

The solitary Miss Havisham (Gillian Anderson) has not been seen by any of the locals in many years, not since she was jilted on her wedding day. Now shut up in her great old house, which still bears the ghosts of wounded memories in the form of a moth-eaten wedding gown and rat-infested marriage cake, she decides to enlist the assistance of a forge boy, young Pip (Oscar Kennedy), in entertaining her ward, Estella (Izzy Meikle-Small). Hoping to raise the girl to avenge the sins of her former lover, her innocent appeal causes Pip's family, which includes his unhappy sister, her good-natured husband, and their greedy uncle, to think that perhaps they might rise in society as a result of it. Miss Havisham encourages Pip to be ambitious and hints that he may have great expectations for the future, only to turn around and deprive him of the one thing he wants most, condemning him to the life of a bond servant learning the trade as a blacksmith.

But that is not the end of Pip's journey, nor his relationship with Miss Havisham... for seven years later, Pip (Douglas Booth) is informed by a London solicitor (David Suchet) that he has inherited a great sum of money. It requires abandoning his current life and becoming a gentleman in society... a plan that will reintroduce him to Estella (Vanessa Kirby) once more.

I have enjoyed this adaptation. It is different from the source material in some respects (and that certainly will give book enthusiasts reason to complain) but it avoids the over theatricality of the roles and instead chooses a far more natural approach. Gillian Anderson chooses to play Miss Havisham both as a woman fully aware of what she is doing and as such, dedicated to evil (though she may not truly know it) and as a vulnerable child in a mature body, forever stuck in one place with no hope of moving forward. The acting here is really remarkable from everyone involved, but particularly so from the young lead. His Pip is all at once a lovely child and one we feel deeply for, yet we are similarly fascinated with Estella and her grim companion.

While certain elements are dramatically different from the book (in order to create a more modern ending) and the second episode stumbles a bit in maintaining the pace of its other parts, this is an enjoyable adaptation that avoids some of the sins of its predecessors while also offering romantics an ending that will make them happy. It is not perfect but it is quite good, and well worth the three hours required to discover its mysteries.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 1, 2012 11:55:25 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 1, 2012 11:57:04 AM PDT
feedthecat says:
Thanks for the excellent review.

BTW, how do you think this adaptation stacks up against the 1947 John Mills, 1974 Michael York, and 1999 Ioan Gruffudd versions? Preferred the former myself and am not a fan of recent period pieces that feature boyish and "unconventional"-looking male leads and "unconventionally pretty" female leads myself. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 2:47:45 PM PDT
I haven't seen the Mills or York version, but I liked this adaptation more than the one with Ioan Gruffudd simply because Miss Havisham is approached differently. Gillian does not come across as... well, as romantically interested in Pip, which gave me the creeps about the earlier BBC version. I also thought the pacing in this adaptation was wonderful. Let me put it this way -- I don't own Ioan's version, but I will own this. =)

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 9:08:10 PM PDT
feedthecat says:
Thanks for the reply and the informed comments.

Just caught part one earlier tonight and I must say that it was very well done: well shot, nice script, nice pacing, and great acting and casting ... well, at least in the first 40 min or so. What's with the guy who portrays the older Pip?

If producers and casting directors want to give jobs to young male actors who have facial features that are extremely appealing to tween-age girls in tv shows and films that involve romantic vampires &/or werewolves, I say, "go ahead", but PLEASE don't cast them in period pieces (at least not in dramas). From that point on, this adaptation was unwatchable, which is a pity becuz it seemed like it could have been the best I'd yet seen.

Once again, thanks, Ms. Bishop.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 2, 2012 6:26:30 AM PDT
I think you should have stuck it out. Yes, older Pip is too pretty. But that doesn't diminish how fantastic the supporting cast is.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 2, 2012 8:53:09 AM PDT
feedthecat says:
Agreed, the supporting cast WAS well cast (except for Estella: certainly pretty-ish, but def not beautiful as the character ought to be, if I recall correctly) and all played their parts very well, and there were the other nice things about this production that I noted. But, alas, that ridiculous-looking Pip absolutely ruined it for me. Having NOT spent a lot of time playing video games, perusing fashion mags, reading comic books or "graphic novels" (think that's what they're called), or watching cartoons, my perception of what is "normal-looking", "beautiful", etc has NOT been warped, as seems to be the case with many producers and casting directors. Great pity, 'cuz otherwise, this version would have been a beut.

Think I'll take another go at the novel, or view a diff adaptation, or just watch the excellent TLC Great Books program about GE. Or maybe I'll just catch up on EDWIN DROOD in preparation for that adaptation to come out. Excellent review of that one, btw. Thanks again for replying.

Posted on Apr 2, 2012 11:46:04 AM PDT
Diatonic says:
Anderson is excessively fey and weird in the role. The role was played much better in the 1947 version. Anderson was fine in Bleak House but here she is over the top. Too young looking also.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 4, 2012 4:20:01 PM PDT
Dickens never specified how old Miss Havisham is at the start of the story (or the end, for that matter) as far as I know, so her looking too young is all a matter of opinion. I personally thought Anderson was marvelous in the role, and gives a much more nuanced performance than she did as Lady Dedlock. But to each their own.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 8, 2012 8:16:54 PM PDT
I have seen the 1947 and 1999 versions and while I thought this new one was better than the 1999 version, neither compares with David Lean's masterpiece with John Mills as Pip. Even though the happy ending differs from the book, the rest of it is pretty much spot on and it has a warmth that the later versions have not captured for me.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 26, 2014 6:42:02 AM PST
Keith Pajot says:
I was disturbed that Jagger's was portrayed as abusing Molly even sexually. There was nothing of this in the book and seems to diminish what he did for Estella. It also panders to anti-lawyer prejudice. I found a lot that was not true to the book and this is typical of recent PBS remakes, esp. Jane Austin. The Lean version is more abbreviated but closer in spirit.

Posted on Mar 30, 2015 12:00:03 AM PDT
WilF. says:
I agree. I completely enjoyed this version and thought Gillian Anderson was the 'perfect bizarre' for this one. Contrary to what a lot of the other comments said about Douglas Booth who portrayed the older Pip, as being 'too pretty'...I actually thought his looks enhanced the role, but more importantly, he did an exceptional acting job and portrayed Pip with a perfect combination of depth and perplexment. About the only negative was the actress who portrayed Estella. She wasn't well cast IMO.
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