Being new to Dickens and Great Expectations, I didn’t expect to have strong ideas or feelings about this adaptation. I thought I would watch it, dislike Estella, be riveted and repulsed by Miss Havisham, have an affinity for sweet, slow Joe, not feel very strongly one way or another about Pip, enjoy having visual representations of the marshes and Victorian London and be left with a general complaisance of the whole affair. Imagine my surprise when, after my initial pleasure at the portrayal of Magwich and young Pip’s encounter, the rest of the first hour of the mini-series left me less than satisfied.
The first hour of the mini-series, like the first volume of the book, relies heavily on the shoulders of its most interesting character, Miss Havisham. My excitement about Gillian Anderson in the role is in direct proportion of how disappointed I was in Anderson’s characterization. Visually, Anderson’s Miss Havisham is perfect (I won’t even get into the quibble in some quarters about her being too young to play the part). She is pale and ghostly, just as someone cooped up in their house and shunning sunlight for 20+ years would be. But, Anderson has given her version of Havisham a whispery, girlish voice that is completely opposite to what I read on the page. The Havisham I read was hard and bitter with a voice to match. She was shrewd and calculating, with hard glittery eyes, not floating around with a dazed expression and a soft voice. Anderson’s spacy portrayal of a calculating woman made her cold dismissal of Pip seem dissonant and out of character.
The actor that played young Pip was wonderful in every scene, holding his own with Anderson and Ray Winstone as Magwich. Too bad they misfired so horribly on the casting of the grown-up Pip, whose pouty lips and prominent cheekbones are better suited for a Abercrombie catalogue than as a 19th century blacksmith. Granted, Abercrombie and Pip was only in the last five minutes of the first hour and didn’t have much to do, but I couldn’t stop staring at his lips to pay any attention to anything else that was going on. Unless Abercrombie and Pip wows me with his acting skills, I predict this will be a problem.
The quirks that made so many of the characters interesting – Joe’s simple sweetness, Jaggers finger biting – have been jettisoned. Our introduction to Herbert Pocket varies greatly from the book, in action and in Herbert’s characterization. One thing that was confusing in the book but was cleared up nicely in the movie was Miss Havisham’s motivation for indenturing Pip to Joe. Havisham saw Estella give Pip a kiss after he fought Herbert, thought Estella was getting too attached and decided to sever her connection with Pip. Is this alluded to in the book? I can’t remember, but I will go back and see. If not, it is a good explanation for an action in the book that made little sense to me.
I watched Great Expectations with my 10-year-old son who loved it. He mentioned yesterday that he wanted to watch it again and was excited to watch the conclusion. Granted, some of his excitement is due to being able to stay up until 9 pm but I will take any interest in the classics, even if I’m not entirely pleased with the adaptation.
- Estella comes across much better in this adaptation than in the book. She seems genuinely uncomfortable with the role Miss Havisham has cast her in. Of all the characters in Great Expectations, Estella gets the least amount of characterization, in my opinion, so this interpretation of her is just as valid as the more prominent one that casts her as completely cold and unfeeling.
- The clocks looked to be stopped at 10 o’clock instead of 9:20. Maybe I saw it wrong, but if I didn’t and it was a different time than the books, I have to wonder why they would change it?
- I understand light is necessary to film, but there was way too much sunlight in Satis House.