TV Review: Great Expectations Part One (BBC)

28 Dec

Image: The Telegraph

In my review of The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, I mentioned my hatred for Great Expectations. This hatred developed when I studied the novel during my GCSEs, and after a term of reading and re-reading the same four passages, I was certain that I never wanted to see or hear anything about it ever again. But the BBC’s new adaptation of it, the first part of which aired last night, may just have managed to change my mind.

Part of the reason for my change of heart was the sheer beauty of this adaptation. Well, I say beauty. In reality, it was beautiful in a gloomy, terrifying, utterly Dickensian kind of way, which is what made it so perfect. Despite having seen every adaptation known to man of the other texts which I studied at GCSE, I have never seen a televised version of Great Expectations before, and thus I cannot compare it to its numerous predecessors. Nor can I say how it compared to the images which appeared in my head when I read the novel, for if these ever existed, I blocked them out, along with my memories of most of the plot. What I can say is that the atmosphere created was perfect for the scenes which played out on my television screen.

The one image which I did have before turning on the television tonight was of Miss Havisham. However, although I do of course remember her from the novel, I have a horrible feeling that the image in my head comes straight from The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. And, I have to say, Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Miss Havisham was nothing like that image. Given that my Miss Havisham was a slightly comic figure though (which only increases my suspicion about where I might have extracted her from), I think that this was probably for the best. Anderson depicted the tragedy of Miss Havisham beautifully, as well as the childlike elements of the character, and the scenes at Satis House were undoubtedly the finest moments of the hour.

There are also excellent performances by Oscar Kennedy as the younger Pip and Douglas Booth as the elder, Shaun Dooley as Joe Gargery, Claire Rushbrook as Mrs Joe, Izzy Meikle-Small and Vanessa Kirby as the younger and elder Estellas, and Ray Winstone as the Abel Magwitch (finally in a role in which his irrepressible Cockney accent is appropriate). Once again BBC, you have succeeded in coercing me back into loving Dickens – I can’t wait to watch the next two installments!

Parts Two and Three of Great Expectations will be shown on BBC One at 9PM on December 28th and 29th, or all three can be viewed on BBC iPlayer.

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