Saturday, 31 December 2011

Great Expectations (BBC)

The BBC got started on the Dickens bicentenary just before 2012 with a three-part adaptation of Great Expectations (and also excerpts from Tomalin's recent biography nicely read by Mrs Crawley, sorry, Penelope Wilton). This treatment has drawn some critical ire for its rather free approach to the business of adaptation, and it was certainly surprising to see the plot actually being rewritten in the closing stages. All humour was bleached out (no Aged Parent, for example), and the verbal tags (Joe's 'What larks', Jaggers' 'Put the case') were largely excised.  Miss Havisham, played by Gillian Anderson, was much younger than usual, and moped around like the doped out survivor of a grunge rock band.  Biggest mistake was to make Pip (played by Daniel Booth) into a willowy fragrance model, with lean pale cheek and quivering upper lip - this might be the modern metromale in the Age of Beckham, but the idea that a blacksmith's apprentice would look anything like this after seven years in the forge reallis just absurd. Nor could we believe that this rather self-assured young man was inhibited by Estella, who in fact came over as the needier of the two. But from all these changes some of the emotional darkness and strangeness of the work surfaced. Joe, Jaggers, and Magwitch all took their turn as surrogate father in Pip's journey, and what was lost in humour was made up for with the sense of being hopelessly lost, stranded in a pretend self between the marshes and the murky London streets. There was also a real evil about Orlick, Drummles and Compesson which larks and merry evenings at the Wemmicks can obscure. In general the production reminded me of The Crimson Petal and the White, another exercise in new-look Victoriana, much possessed by questions of hysteria and identity. Great performances by Ray Winstone (Magwitch), David Suchet (Jaggers) among others. And plenty of BBC Dickensiana to look forward to.