Friday, January 13, 2012

BBC Great Expectations (2011)

The new TV adaptation of Great Expectations (2011) aired on the BBC in three consecutive days just after Christmas. There was a lot of hype about this film and it seems to have been received with mixed feelings and has even become a bit of controversy.

A British YouTube user posted the miniseries on their channel and this is how I've been able to watch it and review it so quickly. I know several of my readers are looking forward to this adaptation so my hope is that this review will give you some idea whether you want to see it when it airs on PBS in April.

Not having read the book (but I hope to later this year) I have little to compare it with. I have watched and reviewed two other adaptations, Great Expectations (1981) and Great Expectations (1999), which will be referenced in this film review.

Oscar Kennedy as Young Pip & Ray Winstone as Abel Magwitch
Plot: When the story begins Philip Pirrip "Pip" is an orphan being raised by his cantankerous sister and her mild-tempered blacksmith husband Joe Gargery. Visiting his parent's graves one dreary day Pip is jumped by escaped convict Abel Magwitch who instructs Pip, on pain of death, to bring him a file to loose his shackles. Afraid for his life Pip steals a file from Joe's forge and out of the kindness of his heart steals a piece of mutton pie for the starving convict. Touch by Pip's kindness Magwitch later covers for Pip and tells the authorities he took the file and pie. Shortly after this incident Pip is invited to visit rich Miss Havisham of Satis House to "play" with her young adopted daughter Estella. It later proves that Miss Havisham was deserted by her fiance on her wedding day and has been teaching Estella how to get back at men and Pip has just been an experiment for their cruelty. Pip has grown more genteel during his visits to Satis House and is quite disappointed when Miss Havisham pays for him to be apprenticed to Joe, thus confining him to the hard life of a blacksmith.
About ten years later Pip is called to Satis house again and falls for the beautiful grownup Estella at first sight. Soon after the lawyer Mr. Jaggers delivers the news that an unknown benefactor has provided for Pip to be made a "gentleman of great expectations" with the proviso that he live in London and not make inquiries into who his benefactor's identity. But Pip is convinced that Miss Havisham has provided for him to become a gentleman and means for him to marry Estella. Pip goes to London where he is trained as a gentleman and squanders his generous monthly allowance on trying to look like the rich people he meets. In London Pip sees quite a bit of Estella and falls in love with her and she begins to soften a bit but the attentions of rich scoundrel Mr. Bentley Drummle make Pip anxious. As Estella's mysterious past begins to unravel Pip's unknown benefactor also comes to light but the truth may put the two young people in danger.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham
Script: This adaptation is very fleshed out and I'm not sure exactly how much of Charles Dickens' original dialog is present. On the other hand this adaptation helped me to understand the story better than I ever have before. It catches the spirit and truth of the story and brings out the interest of the story. There were some scenes left out which I had come to expect from watching other adaptations, in particular the tar water in the brandy scene and the "aged parent" scene were missing. Also a few characters, such as Pip's friend Betsey, were missing. But there were other funny scenes that brought much interest to this version (such as scenes in Mr. Jagger's office and Herbert Pocket teaching Pip to dance, both in episode two).

Pip's home and the forge
Scenes: Every scene is filled with great interest and beautiful cinematography. There's the bleak, muddy, rugged bareness of Pip's childhood home; the creepy, decaying grandness of Satis House; and the elegant drawing rooms of London. Wonderful details and props fill each scene with interesting things to look at. I was particularly interested in Pip's London lodgings because inside and out they reminded me of the Mashalsea Prison from Little Dorrit (2009). Some of the beginning scenes are dark and bleak but the scenes get much brighter and richer as the film progresses.

Costumes: The textures and colors of each character's clothing matches their personality and situation in life. Since the story spans some 8-12 years the styles, especially of the ladies' dresses, seem to be in keeping with the passing years. Miss Havisham's empire-waist wedding gown shows that she was a bride of the Regency era but gowns worn by Estella, and other ladies, show the waistlines have dropped slightly. Many of Estella's gowns were lovely but a few of them showed bare shoulders and seemed almost ready to fall off (but were not low cut). Pip's new fashionable clothes are very elegant and in rich tones. His clothing is used to show how much he changes as it progressively gets fancier and more expensive looking. He also on occasion wears almost identical jackets (photos above) as Mr. Bentley Drummle, showing that Pip is trying to emulate him.

Music: The original music in Great Expectations (2011) was composed by Martin Phipps whose other work you might have heard in North & South (2006), Ruby in the Smoke (2006), Persuasion (2007), Oliver Twist (2007) or  Sense and Sensibility (2008). The music throughout is very touching and speaks beautifully of the hope, expectations, despair and joy in the story itself. Estella plays a couple pretty pieces on the piano and there are a few lovely Waltzes danced. The theme songs are quite catchy and have been running through my head lately.

Great Expectations 2011 Themes
This music video made by me contains the Opening titles music, end theme from episode one and beginning theme from episode two. The photos during the first half were not mine, the other screencaps I made from episode one and two. I would have added more photos and music but the film has recently been taken down from the YouTube channel.

Now for Actors, Quotes, Thoughts and Recommendations!


Actors In Their Roles: The amazing cast of talented actors is what really drew me to this adaptation and I was by no means disappointed! Let me mention a few of them.
  • Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham - Having been blown away by Ms. Anderson as Lady Dedlock in Bleak House (2005) I looked forward to her taking on the role of the bitter Miss Havisham. She made the character a bit more approachable and vulnerable than other actresses I'd seen in the role. Miss Havisham's real motives and revengeful nature are made clear early on in Episode one and as the story progresses she becomes whinny and agitated when she doesn't hear of Estella's conquests or when something happens which she does not like. She ends up seeming quite insecure and a bit depressed by the end of the film, I like Ms. Anderson but I'm not quite sure if I liked the way this adaptation played out her story.
  • David Suchet as Mr. Jaggers - Jaggers is a stern lawyer who acts for Miss Havisham's interests and, coincidentally, those of Pip's benefactor. He is straight business and rather unfeeling to the many people who apply for his help. His story is a bit different in the end that he does seems to show some tenderness which I don't remember seeing in other adaptations. David Suchet is probably by favorite actor so I always look forward to seeing his prodigiously talented roles. The stern and straight-forward voice and character he donned quite surprised me at first but was completely Jaggers to me. There's one delightful scene at the beginning of Episode two that features Jaggers having a hasty lunch break at his office which results in some genius and slightly comical scrubbings and looks in the mirror. I loved Mr. Suchet in this role! 
  • Douglas Booth as Pip - Pip is rather a young and unwise character who grows from his experiences but my viewings of other adaptations (particularly Ioan Gruffudd as Pip in the 1999 film) had made me rather dissatisfied with the character.  Not being very familiar with actor Douglas Booth I wasn't quite sure what to expect but on the whole I found this version of Pip more likable. Because Douglas Booth is younger he gives the character a feeling of this being a young man who is making great mistakes but he still has a good heart that is devoted to his true friends. Overall I liked him very well.
  • Vanessa Kirby as Estella - Again from my experiences with other adaptations I didn't have a very good opinion of Estella, she seemed rather an anti-heroine. But in this film there is a change in her character towards the end of the film and she too learns from her mistakes. Vanessa Kirby brings makes Estella into a capable young woman who is growing increasingly tired of manipulation and restraint and sees in Pip kindness and friendship. I liked the Estella a lot better in this film and look forward to reading the book and finding out more about her character. 
  • Harry Lloyd as Herbert Pocket - Herbert is one character that I've always liked in the various adaptations I've seen. He's a true kindhearted friend to Pip and helps him when he needs it most. My blogging friend Mel is a huge fan of actor Harry Lloyd so I was looking forward to seeing how well her favorite acted in this role. I have to say I absolutely loved Harry Lloyd in this role, he is charming, witty, positive spirited and plays a wonderful friend for Pip! Some of the best scenes feature him, one in particular where with good humor he lets Pip step on his toes while teaching him to dance - a very funny scene!
  • Shaun Dooley as Joe Gargery - Joe is another favorite character from other adaptations, he's like a father to Pip and a very kind and forgiving friend. Shaun Dooley's performance made the character much more of a father and a bit stronger and less good-humored than other adaptations but he was alright. 
  • Ray Winstone as Able Magwitch - Magwitch is the escaped convict who young Pip helps and he shows up later in the story. I'd seen Ray Winstone play a few rough character roles before and this role was also very well done. Magwitch is a rough criminal who does have a bit of a softer side to him and this actor played him very well I thought. Also kudos to Mr. Winstone for rolling about in water and mud with bare feet for most of his scenes - some of the water scenes looked very cold! 
  • Tom Burke as Bentley Drummle - Drummle is a rich society man who Pip tries to emulate in fashion. He is a black-hearted scoundrel who takes what he wants and cares very little for other people. He teases Pip calling him "Pippity Pip" and "Pippy" and tries to steal Estella's attentions away from him as well. Tom Burke played this villain so convincingly that I wanted to reach in and the screen and hit him almost every time he swaggered into view! 
Harry Lloyd as Herbert Pocket
  • "If you can’t beat a boy at Christmas, when can you beat him?" - Mr. Pumblechook
  • "Imagine what a world is out there for someone different and extraordinary." - Miss Havisham
  • "It is the ghost of a wedding cake and I am the ghost of a bride. Time stands still and yet everything turns to dust." - Miss Havisham
  • "I do not want to know the truth, the law does not require it." - Mr. Jaggers
  • "Everyone is meant to love me. But I don’t love back. I do not have a heart." - Estella Havisham
  • "We will see this through together but see it through, we must." - Herbert Pocket

Miss Havisham: What is beauty?
Estella: A destroyer.
Miss Havisham: What is happiness?
Estella: A deception.
Miss Havisham: What is love?
Estella: Death.
-Episode 1

David Suchet as Mr. Jaggers
My Thoughts:
The bad - Even though this adaptation was shown in three parts I found that it moved rather quickly. It seems to have cut out a lot of the original novel and focused more on the overall theme of the story. There also seems to be essential characters and subplots that were left out. Very little time is spent getting to know some of the characters like Jaggers' clerk Wemmick or Herbert Pocket and his fiancee Clara. I suspect there are also a few scenes that have been added (especially between Estella and Pip) that would not be found in Mr. Dickens' original work. Also there's a lack of Dickensian sounding dialog in this film, there's more of a modern/updated feel to the words coming from the character's mouths.
The good - As I've said earlier I had a hard time really understanding the characters and storyline in other adaptations, but this adaptation brings the essential plot points to light and fleshes out the characters a bit more. Many of the characters are more likable as well, particularly the hero Pip and his love interest Estella which seems to me a very important point. Also this film seems to have more twists and turns and (dare I say it) more of a point or goal that it was working towards instead of just rambling along as other adaptations seem to do. Also this adaptation has a fairly happy ending which sees Pip & Estella free to marry, this ending is the one preferred by most except for Charles Dickens whose first ending was less idyllic.
So even though this adaptation may not be completely accurate I still liked it and it has inspired me to read the book.

Vanessa Kirby as Estella & Douglas Booth as Pip
Recommendations: As in most Dickens adaptations there are some mild thematic elements such as fighting, death, poverty and some cruelty so I don't suggest this film for younger children. Also there is one short scene in episode two where the villain Bentley Drummle takes Pip to his "other club" where a group of painted ladies parade in and Drummle encourages him to "take what he likes". The point of the scene is that Pip has been trying to emulate Drummle but discovers very quickly that he has chosen the very worst role model. The ladies are completely covered and Pip gets out as soon as Drummle gets done teasing him but the scene is also fairly easy to skip over. If memory serves there is also a derogatory word used for a woman in the last episode but I can't quite recall. Pip and Estella also kiss briefly. In the last episode there is a chase scene and two men fight with one of them dying. It's similar in this way to Little Dorrit (2009) and Bleak House (2005) but perhaps a bit rougher. Charles Dickens fans will not want to miss this beautifully filmed adaptation.

BBC's official Great Expectations page (clips not available in USA)
Masterpiece Theatre's Great Expectations page (will add offical when available)
My post with photos and the trailer
Wikipedia page (breaks down each episode)

Great Expectations (2011) will be aired in two parts, April 1st & 8th, on Masterpiece Theatre. I don't have information yet as to whether any scenes from the original will be cut out.

 Was this review helpful? 
Are you looking forward to seeing this film when it comes to Masterpiece Theatre?
If you've read the book how does this adaptation seem to compare?

Feel free to ask questions about details of the film!


paul said...

thanks for the video - i enjoyed it

the actors, sets, costumes, and locations all look wonderful

I was not too keen on reading fiction back in High School, but i remember Great Expectations as being one of the books assigned by our English teacher that i truly enjoyed

Mom Walds Place said...

Thank you for the sneak preview and review.

Am I a traitor for not being fond of Great Expectations? Hopefully not. I tried one film version to see if I would like it better than the book, but sad to say it did not thrill me either.

The list of actors might tempt me to watch it once it is on DVD. I will be keeping an eye here to see what the rest of you think!

Jemimah C. said...

I'm so excited to watch this version of Great Expectations! From your review, it sounds quite promising and more or less close to the original story. I'll have to read the book again, though, just to refresh my memory on the plot and the characters. I seem to have forgotten a good deal of parts in the story. And also, Great Expectations isn't a favorite of least when I last read it (two years ago, I think). But my view of it shall change when I read it again.

Lauren said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this adaption. From what you say it seems to be fairly accurate. I don't know what I will think about Miss Havisham and Estella being more likeable, but I'm excited to see it in any case!

Melody said...

Great review, Miss Laurie. =)

Elizabeth said...

I can't wait to see this! I am so glad Harry did a good job, not that I though he wouldn't. There are just actors that you know will do a good job with anything. :) Thank you for the review! :)

Sarah said...

Thank you for this review! I like how you added at the end of the the review your recommendations, it just makes it easier for people to decide what to watch.

Cathy said...

I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie! I haven't read the book yet, but it's on my bookshelf and I hope to get to it before I watch.

I love this cast, especially Gillian Anderson who I agree did an excellent job in 'Bleak House'

Great post on this upcoming version!

Charity U said...

One of my favorite Dickens books. Though I might like Little Dorrit better, haven't read it yet. :)

Yes, this review was helpful! I hope to see the movie soon.

Great job reviewing, I can't imagine how long it took to write that! We have very different review style. :)

Mel said...

A wonderful review- as always :)
Overall I loved this adaptation although having read the book I was disappointed to see some of my very favourite scenes left out but that is to be expected. I was however heartbroken to find the left out several characters I enjoyed like Biddy, and the Aged P (The elderly father of Mr. Wemmick) was a particular favourite. I was equally disappointed in the Wemmick/Herbert relationship which saw Herbert visiting Wemmick at his home. In the novel this relationship was between Wemmick and Pip and was for me one of the highlights of the book. So I wasn't all that happy with that switch around.

Your feelings towards Tom Burke as Bentley Drummle absolutely echo my own. Everytime he called him 'Pippity Pip' and that 'Slippy Pippy' I wanted to land him one right in the nose! :) I also agree that Estella was a lot easier to like in this adaptation.

I have only seen one other adaptation of GE and this one far exceeds it. I tend to be quite picky with this series only because I adore the novel so much but I cannot shake the overwhelming feeling that this is quite possibly one of my very favourite films. I ordered it the moment it was avaliable and now that I have it I have watched it already ever so many times.

And I cannot begin to describe Harry's performance. I will not bore you with the details of my fangirl squeals and gushing at his perfect portrayal but I will say he exceeded my expectation and he is a brilliant actor :)

Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm said...

I know, the Herbert/Wemmick relationship didn't seem to ring true when I was watching it, there was something a bit odd about it. I was disappointed because I'd seen the Aged Parent scenes in other adaptations and really liked them.

Yes, even though this GE adaptation had it's faults I really like it and it is what made me want to read the book (that and your high recommendations). I started reading GE today and even the first chapter is full of interest that makes me want to keep reading! :)

Harry Lloyd is definitely on my favorite actors list now. I didn't know that Charles Dickens was his great-great-great grandfather - so cool! :)

Cwaziness said...

I've been doing this book in English and have done very extensive studies on the book and it's themes. While in itself, the movie was enjoyable, it is not the very least true to the book. I feel many creative liberties were taken and not just the minor details that book fans complain about but also the spirit and theme of the book. An example of this would be Joe and he's lack of sensitivity in this version. He wasn't as loving and caring as he was in the book. He's character is supposed to represent that true moral "gentleman" that Pip eventually learns to emulate but this element is disappointing in this version. Also, the elimination of major characters such as Biddy and Matthew Pocket (he is mentioned but not shown) and the completely different relationship that Pip has with Wemmick (they were friends almost as soon as he came to London.)
Sorry, I'm ranting now. The movie is a good one, however, one should separate themselves from the novel or they will be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

I actually have not finished this adaptation. I'm in the second episode, but I have read the book, and I enjoyed it thoroughly (I actually named my cat Pip after considering Magwitch for weeks, but I figured, once I actually met the cat, that he looked more like a Pip). Great Expectations is most definitely my all time favorite book, and Pip is most definitely my favorite character. I do like this adaptation so far, and I understand that not everything can be in the adaptation for the obvious time problem. The only thing that has disappointed me is that Biddy (a crucial character in my opinion) has been left out, Pip seems harsher in this than he does in the book (which makes me feel as if they've changed his character), his schooling with the Pockets has been left out, and I'm kind of scared of what else might be changed. I don't mind certain scenes being left out, but I feel as if these things are crucial to the theme and plot. Overall though, I believe that it is a good adaptation. I certainly couldn't do better.

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