Last time I saw Great Expectations on TV it was on the commercial side and starred Ion Grufydd as Pip. Rather toothsome I am sure you will agree but he paled into significance when set against the beauty of the actor playing Pip in the BBC version aired over Christmas. Lots of Tweets along the lines of 'Pip is prettier than Estella' and 'difficult to believe in a hero who is prettier than the heroine' and they did have a point. I will freely admit that I took enormous pleasure in looking at Douglas Booth's face, exquisite bone structure and general all round gorgeousness, but he was a good actor as well and, in fact, his beauty and his aristocratic bearing made his rejection of Joe Gargery all the more understandable. I mean how can somebody as lovely as that have anything to do with a blacksmith?
Pip is not a likable person, neither is Estella. He is a crashing snob eager to turn himself into a gentleman and put his rough relations behind him. Estella has been brought up to hate men and to wreak vengeance on the whole race on behalf of the rejected and jilted Miss Havisham. When I first read this book as a teenager I remember thinking how horrid Estella was and felt sorry for Pip. Now of course, viewing with an adult eye, it is clear to see that she is a damaged and mentally abused child and, as with all children who have no love shown to them, are incapable of giving love themselves.
This version of Great Expectations has been streamed down to concentrate on the main story line and has been extremely well done. The humour and wit of Dickens has rather been abandoned but as the adaptor was a scriptwriter for Eastenders, where humour is singularly lacking, this is hardly surprising. Much though I love Dickens I sometimes find his panoply of 'funny/grotesque' characters can sometimes grate (ditto 'rude mechanicals' in Shakespeare) ie Mrs Gamp, Mrs Jellaby et all and Mr Micawber who always fills me with a strong desire to wring his neck. I love the Aged P in Great Expectations (used to call my mum this in her later years - with affection needless to say), but could understand that this character is rather superfluous to requirements when it comes to the main plot. So off they all went and we were left with Pip and his Great Expectations.
I thought the acting was excellent, the scenery and settings spot on as you would expect from the BBC who are always a class act when it comes to this kind of drama. David Suchet as Mr Jaggers was, naturally, wonderful - he really is a great actor. Watching five minutes of the Poirot over Christmas, which I promptly abandoned for its dreadful script and funereal pace, rather makes you forget just how good he is. I found the Miss Havisham of Gillian Anderson quite fascinating though I know others disagree (Helena Bonham-Carter is playing this role in a forthcoming film and I have fears she will produce her manic side a la Harry Potter), her white pasty face with cracked lips and sores very realistic. I have already mentioned the actor playing Pip and good though he was the two stars of the show for me were, first of all, Herbert Pocket. I do love this character and while the memory of Alec Guiness must always lurk I really thought Harry Lloyd brought out his sweetness more than hitherto. He also happens to be Dickens great great great grandson which is rather nice too.
And the other star? Well, Ray Winstone as Magwitch which I thought was an inspired piece of casting. From the first time we see him struggling out of the marshes like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, to his death clutching Pip's hand, he was spot on perfect. I found his scenes with the grown up Pip intensely moving and had recourse to my hankie at the end as Pip realised his benefactor's true worth. Wonderful stuff.
I know that everyone who reads Random think I have it in for the BBC as I do rant about them a lot. I think they can produce excellent and imaginative programmes and, if you pick and choose, you can avoid the dross. However, the proliferation of trailers for forthcoming programmes and the constant grabbing your attention by voice overs is acutely irritating. BBC4 has show back to back episodes of The Killing for the last five Saturday nights. Aficionados of this programme will know that each episode leaves you screwed up in fear and anticipation and can hardly wait to see what happens next. There is usually a two minute break between each episode. Barely has one finished than a voice booms in DON'T GO AWAY. Well, we are hardly likely to. The other week at a particularly tense ending they interpolated a gormless berk introducing a programme about campanology and waving a bell about. All tension and ambiance was totally lost.
So why am I going on about this when I am reviewing Great Expectations? Because at the end, quite beautifully done, quiet and touching with Pip and Estella meeting at Satis House, barely had the scene closed when the credits were shrunk and the usual voice came in COMING UP NEXT and then proceeded to show an up and coming Mystery of Edwin Drood with flashing scene changes and loud voices. When this was done, back we went to the credits and the music of Great Expectations.
I was simply furious. Crass crass crass. If you listen to a piece of classical music on Classic FM you know full well before the last note has died away in will come the presenter - OK it's a commercial station so you pays your money and you takes your choice. If you listen on Radio 3 there is usually a few seconds silence before the announcer will tell you, without saying Oh Gosh wasn't that a stonking verison of Mozart', what has just been played and who played it. In other words you are allowed to take it in and reflect.
If the BBC can do this on the radio why oh why don't they do it on the television? If I have watched a programme on BBC1 and following it I wish to watch something over on Channel 4 no idiot shrieking COMING UP NEXT from the tv is going to make me change my mind. The wonderful feeling of joy and sorrow created by this excellent adaptation totally wrecked.
I know I am ranting again. I do apologise but do not let my rant take away from my feelings about this Great Expectations which I simply loved. If you have not seen it, then get the DVD when it comes out. A good start to 2012 which, as we all know, is going to be the Year of Dickens. I love Dickens so much that I am going to just wallow in it all.
I also think a re-read of Great Expectations is now required and will start on 1 January 2012. Will let you know how I get on as I have not read it in 30 years.