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Great Expectations (2011)

TV miniseries review: Great Expectations (BBC, 2011), directed by Brian Kirk

Great Expectations (2011)tl;dr: Pretty and well-made but depressing.

Little orphan Pip lives in the marshes with his blacksmith uncle (Shaun Dooley) and greedy aunt (Claire Rushbrook). He reckons he’ll be a blacksmith too when he grows up. One day, he comes across an escaped convict, Abel Magwitch (Ray Winstone), and helps him – he’s too terrified not to – and thinks nothing more of it. Especially not since the lady, Miss Havisham (Gillian Anderson), from the big house wants him to come and play with her adopted daughter, Estella.

And Pip does. At first, the children are reluctant playmates, but they grow up and get educated together, and little Pip gets his hopes up about marrying Estella when he’s older.

When Pip (Douglas Booth) is older he gets a scholarship of sorts, to go to London and learn to be a gentleman. The benefactor wishes to remain anonymous, but this must be the work of Miss Havisham! And so Pip goes to the big city, learns to be a toff, and tries hard to squander all his money, hoping to marry Estella (Vanessa Kirby) at the end of it.

Also starring Jack Roth as Dolge Orlick, David Suchet as Jaggers, Paul Rhys as Compeyson, Mark Addy as Pumblechook, Harry Lloyd as Herbert Pocket, Mary Roscoe as Hannah, and Susan Lynch as Molly.

I’ve had little exposure to Charles Dickens so far in my life, so this is the first time I’ve encountered Pip. Now I understand why a friend wanted him to be cannon fodder for a Jurisfiction roleplaying session. Snooty, deluded bastard! Definitely not a fan. Uncle Joe, yes, what a lovely man … but the rest are all a bunch of unpleasant oiks, one more horrible than the other. I mean, Orlick, what a charming fellow that was.

And Miss Haversham. Bit different from what she’s like in the BookWorld. Very ethereal and dream-like – and completely bonkers. LOVED seeing Gillian Anderson playing her. Probably the bits I looked forward to most in the subsequent episodes, to be honest.

There were only three episodes in total, but it seemed to get the job done. As I’ve not read the book, I can’t compare it to that, or even another adaptation. The shots were very bleak, almost devoid of colour at times. Which makes it look quite remarkable but doesn’t necessarily do anything but add atmosphere.

Story-wise, I wasn’t too keen on it, mostly because Pip was a complete dick about everything and everyone. But there you go. At least it’s another Dickens exposure under me belt. Not that it makes me terribly keen on reading the book, but never mind.

Stylish production, well acted and everything, just too bleak for my taste.

3 out of 5 cobwebs.


Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

4 thoughts on “Great Expectations (2011)

  1. Little orphan Pip is born in a medieval age where his father was a blacksmith and had the classic twist of a mean stepmother. It also involves him meeting a criminal and forced to get tangled into the complications because of this fear and hope that he would survive this accidental meeting. But it doesn’t always have to be all too bad with his meeting with Estella.

  2. hi Traxy, i had completely agreed with you about Pip, even thought that he was uglybecause i so hated him.
    i suppose  this “toff” means prejudiced and ungrateful? – that’s what almost made the end of the movie for me – but i persevered  and was rewarded  with ‘Great Expectations’.   this is my take on it – a young and innocent boy hungry for love and approval (like all kids of all times) is exposed to a twisted (in more ways than one) woman and attractive adpted daughter.  he is bewildered into accepting her beliefs as wisdom and with non the shinier to look up to becomes a “toff”.   but later, with the exposure to good people/friends begin to learn/mature and become a better/selfless  person – a pretty good movie  i think.  loved Magwitch.

  3. Haha, no “toff” refers to “stuck-up upper class twit”, but “prejudiced and ungrateful” will do! 🙂

    Magwitch was great. Felt sorry for him for picking such an ungrateful brat to thank!

  4. Magwitch was blindly gratful to the innocent boy he first met ( like a father loving his son regardless of character) and yes,  Pip was callously ungtrateful.  but that can be blamed on youthful ignorance i think (which is why he became a “toff” in the first place).  his character would have had no hope without this metamorphasis.  as you can see – i’m grabbalicious for good endings.

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