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on 6 January 2012
This adaptation is abysmal. I'm surprised it was well received in any quarters, but I gather those who liked it either don't know, or don't like, the book. That's fine, I'm not a book snob - that's largely what film and TV adaptations of good literature are for: so you can acquaint yourself with books you haven't read, and avoid embarrassment at snobby dinner parties. Adaptations are also meant to refresh old stories, reimagine them and present them to a new audience while retaining the germ of what made them worth publishing in the first place. Unfortunately, this production was true to neither the letter nor the spirit of Dickens' text.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should clarify that I've only watched the first instalment, and have no intention of finishing it. I watched the first half of the first episode shortly after it aired, couldn't bear to finish it, then decided after a couple of weeks to give it another shot. I needn't have, because my initial opinion didn't change. I hated it so much I actually feel diminished by it, as though the viewing experience atrophied some vital element of my personality that will never regenerate.

The production values are cheap, with a dark and overbearing blue filter providing most of the atmosphere. Ray Winstone seems okay as Magwitch, I like Shaun Dooley as the loveable Joe Gargery, and David Suchet is an excellent Jaggers (David Suchet is an excellent anything). Oscar Kennedy made a smashing little Pip; expressive, charming and appropriately pathetic. However the script and direction did him no favours, calling for him to smile broadly when he expected a boon from Miss Havisham and frown miserably when it didn't materialise, to gaze with open admiration at Stella, whimper sympathetically at the sight of a convict and roll his eyes at his horrible sister (who, btw, was not nearly as nasty as she should have been). I found myself confused about the motivations of some of the characters, such as Jack Roth's Orlick, who gazed at Joe as though he was in love with him (was he? Forget it, I don't want to know) and Mrs Joe, who seemed proud of Pip, though she despised him in the book. Is Miss Havisham supposed to be kind of in love with Pip, and is Estella jealous? That was weird.

If the shoddy direction obscures the motives of some characters, it exaggerates those of others. This is the Teenagers Guide to Dickens, and if you don't understand it, the script will explain it for you. Pip totally doesn't want to be a blacksmith, and he's desperately hoping Miss Havisham will save him! Stella is, like, REALLY hot, but really mean! Miss Havisham wants to cheat Pip, corrupt Stella, and use Stella to ruin Pip! And in case either Pip or the audience are missing the point, Miss Havisham uses every opportunity to explain it, oh so painstakingly.

Charlotte Rampling was the definitive Miss Havisham for me. Dark, beautiful, sinister and manipulative. What on earth gave Gillian Anderson the idea that delivering every line in a cutesy baby voice would be clever? The character has apparently been completely rewritten. 20 years younger and an awful lot prettier, this Havisham is a porcelain doll in a manicured white wig with immaculate ringlets, pale cobwebby clothes and a childlike sensibility. She's not ancient or skeletal, she's just Scully in white makeup. She wears bare feet, which is a pointless and unlikely change to the original text.

In case we haven't picked up on her fragility, she gestures to some butterflies in a frame that her brother collected, explaining: "he went to the furthest reaches of the earth in his quest for the purest specimen of beauty and when he found it he stuck a pin through its heart". Get it? Men hunt down beautiful women and then break their hearts. Like Miss Havisham, who is fragile like a butterfly, but had her heart broken. Get it? Need more? Miss Havisham goes on. Apparently Master Havisham died of cholera in the tropics, "struck down in his relentless pursuit of beauty... perhaps it was beauty's revenge? To stop his heart, when he had stopped so many others." Then Miss Havisham asks "do you think beauty is a destroyer of men, Pip?". The answer, in case you're wondering, is yes, beauty is a destroyer of men, and beautiful Estella is about to come down the stairs and destroy Pip, thereby avenging Miss Havisham.

There may as well be subtitles explaining this point, it's made so obvious. If you're still not clear on the situation, however, the producers have kindly taken further liberties with the text to labour the point. They also make it plain (too plain, for an audience they obviously consider too stupid to keep up), that Miss Havisham is deceiving Pip into thinking she will make him a man of means. She urges him to borrow an atlas, and "imagine what a world is out there, for someone different and extraordinary", then signs an apprenticeship binding him to the forge for seven years. Again, this was all more artfully implied in the book. Miss Havisham's manner is so affected and silly that it's almost embarassing to watch. She delivers her lines awkwardly, theatrically, and she seems to want to be thought cute, with wide staring eyes and a look of perpetual astonishment. She's self-consciously, deliberately weird, whereas Charlotte Rampling was lazy, comfortable, casually mad and believably eccentric.

By the end of the first episode, Pip has grown up into a very shiny young man who could be (and probably is) a Calvin Klein model, which isn't a fault per sae, except that I really resent the Twilightification of 19th century adaptations. It's Pip and Stella, not Edward and Bella, and 19th century novels don't all need to be reduced to the same generic, intense love story between two teenagers. Grown-up Estella is pretty, but not beautiful enough to be the ice-cold breaker-of-hearts Miss Havisham has made her, though I blame costume and makeup, and perhaps casting. I haven't seen much of adult Estella, but so far I think Vanessa Kirby looks better as a blonde and seems somehow too modern for this role. A scene in which Estella runs after Pip to breathlessly hold hands with him and imply that she loves him is completely superfluous and unconvincing, but I suppose they had to give us something to go on until the next episodes (the ones I didn't bother watching). I'm also seriously concerned at this point that Pip has grown up, but Biddy hasn't made an appearance. Where's Biddy?!?

The issue with adapting Dickens, or any great fiction, is that it's not just a good story, it's good writing. Great Expectations isn't the classic novel it is just because it's a good story, but because it's good writing. I concede that when novels are adapted for stage, film and TV, the new format requires alteration. Also, when something has been adapted as often as Great Expectations, the creators have to do something new with it, otherwise there's no point. However, much of the original text and dialogue have to be preserved, otherwise it's not Dickens any more, and frankly, it's not interesting any more. Andrew Davies is a master of the art of retaining a maximum of original text in TV adaptations while still stretching the limits of the format, but obviously he wasn't available.

I'm not likely to finish watching this, because I don't want to risk ruining a favourite book. There's nothing worse than having poorly-cast characters glued in your memory for all eternity, who spring to mind every time you read the book despite your best efforts to expel them. Unfortunately, the memory of this dreadful adaptation may be like a dead butterfly pinned to wall of my heart. Or like the "ghost of a bride", destined to suffer in sunless gloom. Or like an atlas that never closes, a globe that never stops spinning, "crows gathered 'round my corpse waiting to feast on me"...

Do you need more metaphors? There's no shortage.
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on 31 December 2011
Although I read voraciously and enjoy challenging literature, I find Dickens heavy going generally. I've noticed that, among enthusiastic readers like me, Dickens is like Marmite: you either love it or loath it. I often find his characters too overblown for credibility, sometimes tending (in my view) towards grotesque (though entertaining) caricatures. That said, they are often memorable - and his plots are fascinating.

I studied Great Expectations at school, but I didn't particularly like it. Perhaps that is why I felt free to enjoy this adaptation for what it is: Beautiful and interesting to look at, evocative, and believable (something I have a problem with in the writing).

I don't agree with the negative review(s) of Ray Winstone as Magwitch: Of course he was himself as usual, which itself brings a particular humanity to his roles, but I understood his Magwitch as a fully-rounded comprehensible person. I loved Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham. I really admire her as an actor generally and, again, felt that she gave a life and a humanity to the character not present, for me, in the book. Jaggers (David Suchet) became authentic for me, as did his relationship with Molly, and I really liked this version of Wemmick (Paul Ritter). I also disagree with criticisms of the adult Estella (Vanessa Kirby) - she, too, was more vivid for me than before - and I felt she was well cast for this version (the character should not, I feel, be constrained by imagining that she would be a conventionally "beautiful" aristocratic type - that was not the character's true background; and she's MEANT to be cold and unsympathetic until near the end, isn't she?). I felt that the whole script worked very well generally, in its own right. I liked that things were added to the book as well as missed from it: The total number of characters in the original story was pared down and I don't think that's a bad thing - what we got instead was greater depth in those remaining - an imaginative but considered take on the story.

I did feel, however, that Douglas Booth was miscast as Pip - mainly because he DOES look like a boringly upper class beauty - probably because that IS his background (where have all these public school kids on the BBC come from in the last 2 years??? I can't imagine). That said, his performance grew on me, probably because he's not a bad actor: Although he didn't look right and the posh accent was a tad too natural for the role, I found myself going along with him anyway.

Two performances I particularly liked (which I don't think other reviewers have mentioned) were those of Oscar Kennedy, as young Pip, and Shaun Dooley, as a very lovable Joe Gargery. Child actors can be awful but Kennedy was great - I could quite see why his young Pip might have inspired Ray Winstone's Magwitch.

All in all, if you're looking for a painstakingly detailed recreation of Dickens' very long book, this probably won't hit the spot - It's not like the BBC's recent adaptation of Bleak House in that sense, which I also loved. It is more comparable with their version of Oliver Twist (with Timothy Spall as Fagin, Tom Hardy as Bill Sykes and Sophie Okonedo as Nancy), which I also enjoyed as a vivid piece of story-telling in its own right.

I advise you not to miss this if you haven't seen it, and to watch it with an open mind.
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on 30 December 2011
It was inevitable that the bicentennial of Dickens's birth would be marked by a plethora of filmed adaptations of his novels. Hot off the starting blocks comes the BBC's latest attempt at the masterful Great Expectations. A crowd-pleaser certainly, Sarah Phelps's adaptation is not in the same league as Andrew Davies's readings of Bleak House or Little Dorrit, but is beautifully photographed, wonderfully lit, and darkly atmospheric. The first episode starts strongly with the bleakness of the grey marshes filmed almost in monochrome, and a credible encounter between Young Pip and the convict Magwitch. Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham is also a bit of a revelation, albeit one which will irritate purists who picture her to be much older (and possibly taller). The scene in which she is consumed by fire like so much dust and rags is quite startlingly well done.

However, there the accolades for this production come to an end. The abrupt switch from Oscar Kennedy's Young Pip to the pouting Douglas Booth leaves the viewer questioning if a scene has been omitted. Pip's Justin Bieber haircut and bee-stung lips also suggest a cynical deployment of boy-candy by BBC casting directors, no doubt designed to appeal to those whose bookshelves possibly do not already heave under the weight of Dickens's novels. Ray Winstone plays Magwitch as Ray Winstone, but his whispered dialogue comes straight from the Phil Mitchell school of ham-acting, and writer Sarah Phelps's EastEnders pedigree is reflected in some truly trite liberties with the script. (`I wanted to hurt you, I wanted to hurt everybody', trills Miss Havisham by way of heavily signposted explanation of the story hitherto. `I forgive you', responds pouting Pip). Arch-villain Bentley Drummle, complete with hare-lip, presumably to indicate his villainy, is played with pantomime devilishness by Tom Burke. While Dickens merely hints at the cruelty with which he uses Estella, her bruises are clearly on display as she whispers her thanks to Drummle's horse for conveniently dispatching him. This is a determinedly modern production that needs an EastEnders-style 'issue', and the implied wife-beating is portrayed as incongruously as Estella's and Pip's erotic wading scene, with its raised petticoats and daring flash of shins. Likewise, the brothel scene in which Drummle humiliates our pouting hero is frankly laughable, as badly scripted and far from Dickens as it is possible to get.

A version of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood is set to follow shortly. The BBC's intention to both finish and dramatise Dickens's unfinished work may set alarm bells ringing. Recent adaptations of Dickens on the BBC have not been entirely successful. A misguided desire to modernise and reinterpret Dickens for a new audience is at odds with an ever-increasing authenticity in the look of Dickensian Britain with which such productions are blessed through the use of CGI and other techniques. Dickens was a Victorian writer writing in Victorian times about nineteenth century issues. Attempts to re-script his already ample dialogue and introduce latterday pre-occupations underestimate the intelligence of the audience, and turn masterful fiction into trashy soap opera. While purists will avow that Dickens's writing was the soap opera of its day, it appealed to readers on many levels, something which modern interpretations like Sarah Phelps's earlier execrable version of Oliver Twist often fail to do. Some, like Andrew Davies, manage to get the balance spot on, and it is a shame that the BBC saw fit to cancel his production of Dombey And Son, as it would have done the bicentennial much prouder than this patchy version of Great Expectations.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 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.
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on 15 February 2012
I bought this to watch with my children to introduce them to a great story, but was sadly disappointed. While Andrew Davies would have found a way to capture the flavour and the humour of the key characters, in this version the characters and almost all the scenes have been entirely rewritten. There is almost nothing of the Dickens story here beyond the plot outline. (That's the trouble: you can see that the scriptwriter saw it as a 'story arc'.) Instead we get crude, anachronistic contemporary soap-opera characters in made-up scenes of banality and vulgarity. It's a parody. Joe, who is gentle, simple and loving (and very funny), is touchy and class-conscious. Joe and Herbert's friendship is made slight and trivial. Wemmick becomes a sentimental moralizer - as far from what he really is as you could possibly get. Joe's sister, rather than just being thoughtlessly cruel, is spiteful and bitchy; the scene where she throws Orlick's rabbits away is laughable, and anyone who's ever read a nineteenth-century novel would instantly know that. What on earth was this adaptor doing?

Above all - where's the humour? There is masses of humour in these novels and specifically in this one. None of it survived. All the scenes were over-portentous, making a point. Really, BBC - really not worth the bother. Go back to Andrew Davies.
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on 4 December 2012
I haven't watched as yet, but I am sure I will enjoy.

I have also recommended to Friends.

Thank you
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on 2 January 2012
If you are a purist, and I'm not, then you will be asking yourself where half the characters are, and what about the rest of the story line. Some characters like Mr Wemmick have only a minor part, and the part of Biddy are missing altogether.

I was disappointed that some aspects of the storyline were missing, but we must remember that this is an adaptation and not portraying the book to the full. If we were to go there we would have a series which would likely last some 16 hours, and it would be full of a lot of painful dialogue, and it would unlikely keep the interest of a wide audience.

What we have here is an adaptation which keeps true to the storyline, although changes parts to keep some continuity, in order to make the story believable and explain what is happening. Although the part where Pip changed from a boy to a man within seconds confused my family who didn't know the story. I had only just finished reading the book a week or so before Christmas (last time read was about 30 years ago), and I was grateful for a lot of the story being condensed. Though at first I thought the script was running far too fast for my liking.

As for the acting, I do suspect the Miss Haversham (Gillian Anderson) is slightly too young for the part, but she was very credible, and a great under-rated actress. Magwitch was truly brought to life, I find in Dickens this part incredulous, however Ray Winstone made him someone I could believe in. Douglas Booth does not portray the part of Pip as you read in the book, as I feel in the book he is more out-going and brash; however that is how the script takes you, and I am really happy with his acting. All other actors / actresses execute their parts extremely well, and I don't think there is any bad acting here. Estella does the acting well, and I can fully understand her breaking with Miss Haversham, and then her regret of her treatment of others later.

What we have here is an excellent adaptation within 3 hours, which should please many people. I really enjoyed watching this, and will be glad to watch it again and again.

I eagerly await the film version due out this year, with director Mike Newell and script by David Nicholls with actors Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jeremy Irvine etc. It does have more of the characters, but only likely to be 2 hours, whereas this adaptation is 3 hours.
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on 14 January 2012
Sad to say this was a crushing disappointment. The greatest problem with it, I think, is the dialogue which is often clunky and cliched. Gillian Anderson, while a fine actress and electric in Andrew Davies' Bleak House, is particularly badly served in this regard. The book is translated in such a way as to remove any of the comic genius of the original. The child actor playing Pip is very good, though his successor is not and I'm afraid miscast - far too pretty to be credible as a child of the forge and certainly prettier than Estella which seems odd. Herbert Pocket, Jaggers and Magwitch are well played, but much of the rest is forgettable. Joe is practically unrecognizable. The attempts to make it slick for the 21st century instead simplify what is a haunting, hilarious and dark novel about revenge, money, friendship and the penalties of progress. So, if it is a bad adaptation of the novel, is it good drama in its own right? I would argue no. It simply lacks the subtlety and complexity that the subject matter demands. And this brings me no pleasure to say, really. I personally would look to the BBC 1999 film with Ioan Gruffudd as Pip. Less polished, but far more substance and far more arresting.
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on 8 July 2012
I had low expectations, given how paralysingly awful Sarah Phelps' adaptation of Oliver Twist had been... and I was right. What kind of person picks up Charles Dickens' greatest novel and think "Oooh, I can improve on this... especially by adding lots of thunderingly crass metaphors... like, um, butterflies fixed under glass... and then have the characters explain them to the viewer"?

Ray Winstone is okay, but I wish I'd had a chance to see him play the same role in a proper adaptation. Gillian Anderson - who is usually very good - is just embarassing in this, doing a laughably silly 'little girl' voice and wafting around with a deathly pallor and chapped white lips like a vampire. All terribly symbolic, I'm sure, but also ludicrous. Also, the writer seems to be under the impression that an adaptation becomes more 'challenging' and 'modern' and 'gritty' if you make everybody in it as unpleasant as possible, with characters altered to make them violent and snobbish and cruel when they don't need to be for the story to work. It's a disastrous approach, ruining the subtleties and ambiguities of Dickens' fascinating, disturbing, achingly melancholy story. Please, BBC, stop paying Sarah Phelps to ruin Dickens stories.

Oh, and I don't mean to be unkind, but the actor playing Pip is so wooden they could've employed a wardrobe with a face drawn on it instead without losing a thing.
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on 25 August 2014
This is quite a good adaptation of the classic book and update on the original film of Great Expectations. Even though that film with John Mills etc is admirable, I think the series is more atmospheric, dark and realistic.

Martita Hunt, who plays Miss Havisham in the original, portrayed quite a stern cold-hearted character who regretted her decisions concerning Estella’s upbringing in the end, whereas, Gillian Anderson (X-files), who is a surprisingly good character actress, plays the rejected, cold woman in a much more vulnerable and fragile way, with a underlining retrained passion and bitterness. I think this is a much more in-depth performance adding believability to the character. I’ve also seen her convincing presentation in another Dicken’s series, Bleak House.

Vanessa Kirby is brilliant as Estella who shows she has a hidden heart, but suffers for her indifference by marring the ruthless Bentley Drummie.

But I had trouble relating to the main character, Douglas Booth, who was supposed to portray the sensitive and soft-hearted Pip. I thought his features were too porcelain and fixed, even a little sinister at times, (he would make a good Dorian Grey) and he came across as too serious. However, I did warm to him in the end. John Mills was a renowned character actor and played the sensitive and soft-hearted Pip in a more believable way, because he was also able to be light-hearted given his predicament.
Booth was more intense, despite his stone-faced looks, so it is one version against the other really and you take your pick.

It was a great decision to film the series in dismal colouring, sepia tones and dark and light chiaroscuro, adding to the dark intensity of the characters and the settings.

Considering this version was quite profound, it wasn’t as seductive as I would have liked and could also have done with some expectant eroticism between Estella and Pip. They could have shared a kiss at the end at least.

The plot was slightly excessive compared to the original and the book, I think they wanted too add more to the film to make it more interesting and credible, it made it more realistic anyway.

Nice job and worth buying on DVD to add to my historical series collection,
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