Judge Roy Hrab had higher expectations.
"I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip."
Ah, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I studied the book at university and enjoyed it immensely. At its heart, this is a story about the challenges of growing-up and becoming your own person, including first love, first heartbreak, being embarrassed by one's family, and learning who your real friends are. It's also about how some adults, unsatisfied with their lives and feeling society has wronged them, use children as instruments of revenge in a misguided attempt to get a second chance at their own youth.
Great Expectations is a story with universal appeal which many can relate to, on some level. As a result, there is a no end to the making and re-making of movies and mini-series of this classic. It has seen a number of screen adaptations, the most famous (and arguably best) of which is director David Lean's 1946 film. In 1998, there was a modern day adaptation, starring Ethan Hawke (as Pip, renamed Finn) and Gwyneth Paltrow (as Estella). Later in 2012, there will be a new film, featuring Ralph Fiennes (as Magwitch) and Helena Bonham Carter (as Miss Havisham).
However, before us now is the 2011 Masterpiece Theatre production of Great Expectations. It stars Douglas Booth (The Pillars Of The Earth) as Pip, Vanessa Kirby (The Hour) as Estella, Ray Winstone (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) as Magwitch, and Gillian Andersen (The X-Files) as Miss Havisham. Is this version all we hope it could be? Yes and no.
Technically, this is a quality period piece, capturing the style of Victorian England without fault. But then, what else does one expect from Masterpiece Theatre? Unfortunately, the acting—or should I say casting—is a mixed bag. Winstone is terrific as the rugged and bitter Magwitch. Harry Lloyd (The Iron Lady) makes for an excellent Herbert Pocket, Pip's gentle friend. And Shaun Dooley (Shackleton) is spot on as the kindly Joe Gargery. However, Booth as Pip is too much of a pretty boy. He does not look like a naïve young man raised by a blacksmith. Andersen plays Miss Havisham as though she is heavily sedated, rather than as someone putting together a malevolent scheme. And Kirby doesn't make much of an impression as Estella, Miss Havisham's weapon against men.
How true is this adaptation to the original? Quite. The Pip-Estella-Havisham dynamic is unchanged. Pip must deal with the feelings of betrayal and heartbreak, when his expectations are shattered and the truth about Estella and Havisham are revealed. The complex relationships between Magwitch, Estella, Molly, Jaggers, Compeyson, and Havisham (a lot of names, but this is a Dickens novel) is also intact.
The most glaring change is the complete absence of Biddy, a close friend of Pip and an important character. Another significant alteration is the ending, which is far more optimistic than the novel and takes place years earlier. I disagree with both of these changes, since they weaken the lessons and resonance of the story.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio, the quality is just what you'd expect from a modern made-for-television production. Nothing surprising and nothing worth complaining about. Except, sadly, there are no extras.
Is this a "great" adaptation? No, there are missteps in casting and execution. However, Masterpiece's Great Expectations is good enough. If you enjoyed the book, it's worth watching.
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