Tuesday, August 14, 2012

DVD MiniSeries: Great Expectations 2011

The newest adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations is spectacular, capturing the very essence of Dickens at his best. And the major reason for this is the outstanding performance of actress Gillian Anderson, as Miss Havisham.

The novel Great Expectations, published in serial form throughout 1860 and into 1861, follows the fortunes and coming of age of Philip Pirrip, known as Pip. Pip is an orphan living with his sister and her husband, Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. The Gargery's life is impoverished and Mrs Joe Gargery is always complaining about the time and expense of raising Pip. Joe however, is kindly towards the boy. His foil is the cruel, base Dolge Orlick who works with Joe in his forge. Orlick hates Pip and often threatens the boy.

The movie opens with the escape and recapture of a convict from one of the boats headed to Australia. Pip encounters that convict on the coast and terrified by his threats, agrees to bring him back a file so he can escape his shackles. But Pip not only brings back the file but also a piece of mutton pie, for which the convict is very grateful. Pip's kindness towards the convict will have positive future repercussions.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham
One day Mr. Pumblechook, Joe's uncle arrives telling the Gargery's that Miss Havisham of Satis House wishes Pip to come to see her. Both Pip and the Gargery's, but especially Mrs. Gargery, have "great expectations" as to how Pip's association with Satis House will raise them up.Sadly Mrs. Gargery will not live to see these expectations come about.

When Pip arrives at Satis house he learns that he is to come each day to be a companion for a young girl, Estella, whom Miss Havisham has adopted.  Satis House however is a creepy, decrepit place. Miss Havisham is a wealthy spinster who was jilted by her fiance, Compeyson, on her wedding day. She lives in her bedraggled wedding gown, walking through the house in a stupor in her bare feet. Her crumbling estate, Satis House still bears all the decorations of her wedding day, complete with a table set for her wedding banquet and a rotted wedding cake.

Nevertheless, Pip continues to visit Estella, and gradually falls in love with her. As soon as Havisham discovers this she sends Pip away, paying for his apprenticeship to Joe Gargery, the blacksmith. The first part of her plan, creating an attachment between Pip and Estella has been successful. Distraught and disillusioned, Pip settles in again at the forge, until one day, Mr. Jaggers, a London barrister arrives to inform the Gargery's that an unknown benefactor has requested that Pip leave for London immediately to become a gentleman. Pip cannot inquire as to the identity of the benefactor until he comes of age, at eighteen.

Douglas Booth as Pip
In London, Pip rooms with Herbert Pocket who is related to Miss Havisham. Herbert helps Pip fit into London society. Estella also now lives in London and both Pip and Estella continue their friendship. From this point on the storylines begin to converge. When Pip learns who his benefactor is, he is filled with horror and disbelief. He does not want to accept the fortune offered. He also learns more about his benefactor and also who Estella really is.

Meanwhile his love for Estella is unrequited. In a dramatic confrontation Pip learns that Estella will marry Bentley Drummle, a coarse womanizer who does not love her. He is stunned and cannot understand this turn of events. Miss Havisham considers this the perfect contest for Estella who has been trained not to love, but Pip recognizes that  Havisham does not understand men nor love and that it is Estella who will be destroyed, not Drummle.

In the end, Dickens ties all the story lines together demonstrating how interconnected all his characters truly are. Dickens did revise the ending to Great Expectations to make it happier but many consider that the original ending with Estella and Pip going their separate ways to be more stylistically appropriate.

The BBC adaptation of Great Expectations succeeds on many levels. It is a well done period piece about the coming of age of a young man who is ruined and then redeemed again. The miniseries alternates between the gothic atmosphere of Satis House and the dark, damp waters of the coastline.

The character Miss Havisham is brilliantly portrayed by Gillian Anderson who first read Great Expectations while preparing for the series. Havisham is the personification of unprocessed grief and Anderson captures this with her wispy soft voice. She lives in the past and will not move on. Havisham is a tragedy. She could not forgive nor forget and that was her ruin. She could have had another life; one filled with love, a husband and children but she chose to let her grief consume her, as so appropriately portrayed symbolically in the movie when she catches on fire while burning letters. Her grief is a raging, consuming fire.

Miss Havisham uses Estella as a means to exact revenge, not on anyone person, but men in general. By training Estella to be cold hearted, and unmoved by love, she would hurt any man who loved her by not returning that love. Pip was the means to test Estella, to strengthen her against love. But in the end, Miss Havisham does not succeed.

And Estella, raised to be incapable of love, turns out to be terribly vulnerable, something Pip realizes.

Pip is portrayed by the handsome Douglas Booth who has been cast as Romeo in remake of Romeo and Juliet currently in post production. Pip is a thoroughly good person. Even after the terrible evil Miss Havisham does, he still forgives her.

If you haven't read Great Expectations, definitely consider this novel. This is a book that can be read and reread. Whether you read the novel or not,  don't pass up this movie adaptation of the book.

Here is the short BBC trailer for Great Expectations, which ran at Christmas 2011, hence the Christmas carol music accompanying the trailer.

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