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Help! No Biddy? No Wopsles? No Aged Parent?
on 13 May 2015
It's a great story, and the adaptation is passable, but this isn't in the same class as the adaptations of "Bleak House" from 2005 and 1985, with Gillian Anderson and Diana Rigg respectively. "Great Expectations" is a shorter novel, but this version, at 3 hours (3 hourly episodes), seems too short, especially in the last two episodes, which seem rushed and a bit perfunctory in their treatment of plot. The pacing of the first episode -- to the point where Pip leaves for London -- seems right, and it's partly because of what we see of life with the Gargerys there that makes us feel the relative absence of them from the later episodes. Pip's relation, while in London, to Joe and his old life doesn't get the weight it should. Also, there's no Aged Parent, no Wopsles, no Biddy, and the ending is far too neatly wrapped up -- no eleven years in Cairo with the Pockets here, and the resolution is too easily achieved, and to that extent very different from either of Dickens's endings. In short, I'm not sure we're convinced of the purgatorial fires that Pip and Estella have been through. Also, I think more effort should have been made to preserve Dickens's language or a reasonable facsimile thereof. And I don't remember in the novel Estella saying "Thank you" to the horse that kills Bentley Drummle, and a don't remember the cute wading in the pond and that first kiss (because it wasn't there!). I did like the oddly filtered camera work, very sharp, and poised between color and black-and-white. That is especially effective in Satis House (Miss Havisham's home) and on the marshes of the opening scenes. The London exterior scenes were fine, well up to BBC standard for such things. I always wonder -- do they close down whole streets for the shoot so that people can go around in crinolines and coaches can drive by?
The casting was uneven. Douglas Booth and Vanessa Kirby looked good as Pip and Estella, but they lacked energy and chemistry. They certainly weren't bad -- just a bit pallid. On the other hand, Gillian Anderson was an arresting and self-tormenting Miss Havisham, definitely not always icily in control of herself. Ray Winstone was a dangerous and physically imposing Magwitch, but capable of bringing tenderness and humor to the character too. The lawyer Jaggers, the agent for both Magwitch and Miss Havisham, was well taken by David Suchet and seemed a man almost obsessively uncomfortable with the dirty business of the law but determined not to be broken by it. In smaller parts, Tom Burke was a credibly nasty Drummle (although I don't remember that scene at his "club"), and Harry Lloyd and Perdita Weeks were attractive young Pockets.
All in all, then, a mixed bag. I certainly wasn't sorry to have seen it, but the novel's moral weight doesn't come through, and that's partly the fault of the adapted script and partly a matter of the central young couple not making it quite credible.