As an avid novelist, I cringe when I see the adverts for any ‘classical book- cheesy tv adaption’. History has proven that TV adaption can either be a great success ( Pride and Prejudice) or a failure of epic proportions. I am both relieved and privileged to say that Great Expectations has renewed my faith in such adaption’s.
Telling the story of Pip, Estella, Joe and the beautifully tormented Miss Haversham this series will be forever lodged in my mind as the best of 2011 television. Although I believe that Charles Dickens was a great writer for his time, I find his writing slightly hard to read. Thanks to this adaption, I am now 100 pages into Great Expectations to experience the story again.
Pip, first shown as a young orphaned boy living with his abusive sister, her lovely blacksmith husband Joe and his violent apprentice Orlick, is attacked by Abel Magwich- an escaped criminal. Threatening the boy with an imaginary ‘friend’ who will ‘cut out his tongue and eat it’, Magwich asks Pip to steal him a file so he can be free of the shackles that have bound him. Pip steals the file from his adoptive father and returns it to Magwich…along with a piece of mutton pie.
This simple kind gesture will change Pip’s life forever, not that we are aware of this at this point. Magwich breaks the shackles and is free…right until he attacks a seemingly innocent policeman. Brought back to the blacksmiths house, Douglas Booth portrays a petrified Pip who is fearful that the convict will tell of his actions. Refusing to get the young boy in trouble, Magwich claims he stole them and is led away.
Ray Winstone paints a scary picture as Magwich, and tells the story of a troubled man who has lived quite a life, with the simple flick of his eyes. I found myself really empathizing with Magwich throughout this.
When Pip is summoned by Miss Havesham, his sister makes him go in order to benefit herself. Arriving at the house, Gillian Anderson portrays a beautifully tormented Miss Havesham. The house, now a mausoleum to a wedding that apparently didn’t happen, with the dying bouquet on the dressing table near the tiara and the wedding table let to gather cobwebs and dust, paints a sorry picture.
An award-winning performance by Gillian Anderson makes the audience feel sorry for this cruelly manipulative and deeply maddened women whose hatred of men runs deep into her veins. Forcing Estella, her adoptive daughter, to play with Pip and act as a ‘gentleman’; it appears that pip will be provided with the means to become a distinguished circumstances. Alas, when Estella kisses Pip, he is sent away by Miss Havisham as she makes Estella chant a mantra about love that makes it apparent that she is not allowed to fall in love. Appearing nice, Miss Havisham pays for Pip to complete a blacksmith apprenticeship with his adoptive father, a role that ignited his heart with pride before experiencing the fun of being a gentleman.
Five years into Pips apprenticeship, Orlick is sent away as Joe cant afford to keep him on and pay for his wifes medical bills (as Orlick had attacked the sister wive a hammer earlier). Pip is seen by Havishams lawyer who states that ‘an anonymous’ benefactor has bequeathed him a substantial amount of money, and he is to go to London and live the life of a gentleman on one condition. That he in no way tries to find out who the benefactor is.
Needless to say, what follows is a story of corruption and greed, as Pip is new to money and soon has debts piling up. When the benefactor reveals himself the audience is shocked to find that it is Magwich, and even further shocked to find out that Estella is his daughter.