Great Expectations (2011)

Douglas Booth, Gillian Anderson, Vanessa Kirby
Directed by Brian Kirk
Rating: C

It’s the classic “from rags-to-riches” tale by the English writer Charles Dickens.

Pip is a young orphan, taken in by his older sister and her husband, Joe, who live in a modest, out-of-the-way house on the marshes. Pip dreams of a better life for himself, rather than the promised apprenticeship he expects as a blacksmith. When a rich recluse takes interest in him, Pip’s hopes soar higher. One day, Pip receives word an anonymous benefactor has decided to make him a gentleman, so off to London Pip goes without looking back on the family who raised him.

The moral of Pip’s story is clear throughout this mini-series of never forgetting where you came from. Ashamed of the poor and uneducated people who raised him, Pip arrogantly turns his back on the ones he once loved. When those who love you stick with you through times of trouble, however, Pip’s guilty conscience steers him in an amending direction. Being rich doesn’t always bring happiness and for Pip, he realizes what a mistake he has made in ignoring the important people in his life.

It could have been possible to fit most of the story from Dicken’s novel into an extra episode in this mini-series. Minor characters were either cut (like the character Biddy) or further made less important (take Wemmick, for example). Watching anything that has been transformed from page to screen will most likely be disappointing, but there were certain events I would have liked to see unfold on screen.

Mr. Wemmick’s character is supposed to be two-faced. There is his “Little Britain” personality and his “Castle” side. In the office, Mr. Wemmick is serious about his business, but at the comfort of his home, he isn’t afraid of looking through a loophole or two to help Pip. In this adaptation of the book, Mr. Wemmick is mostly cold towards Pip and isn’t the same kind of man who would invite Pip over for a shotgun wedding.

The other event which would have had time to be told but was shortened in a more comprehensible story-telling was the feud between Magwitch and Compeyson. Dicken’s wove a delicate web between important characters such as Miss Havisham, Magwitch, Jaggers, and Compeyson. As Pip unfolds the truth behind his benefactor’s past, he finds out the history between Miss Havisham and the man who stood her up on her wedding day. What happened on screen instead, was a shortened version of these past histories. We had a summed up explanation that Magwitch had been away on business when Compeyson came along and tried to harass his wife. All along there was a longer history of Magwitch and Compeyson working together which was ignored in this series.

Besides talking about what could have been, Great Expectations conveyed the important message across about family. No matter how many times Pip expressed his ingratitude to the man who raised him, Joe was always there when he needed to be. I only wished Pip showed more guilt throughout the series when that was hammered into readers of the book, how bad Pip felt for his actions against Joe. While it was always shown that Pip was acting rudely, there was hardly a time when he showed remorse.

An actress I want to give credit to is Gillian Anderson who played Miss Havisham. Having been on an “X-Files” binge the past few months, seeing the transformation of Anderson into Miss Havisham was incredible. She looked the part and did a great job portraying this sad, heartbroken (but vengeful) woman. The difference between Anderson’s “Scully” from the “X-Files” to Miss Havisham really showed the wide-range of characters she can play.

Despite the fair acting and hardly truthful story-telling of Great Expectations, I expected more from this 3-hour adaptation. Next time I venture into watching it, I will try another version.


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