[WATCHED: Summer 2012] Great Expectations
Sometime after I read Great Expectations, PBS aired this BBC production. I don’t know if it’s a movie or a mini series and I don;t really care, so I’m calling it a movie. So I thought I’ll just wait until after I watch the movie and then write my post about both. And now here were are, several months later. Sigh.
Anyhow, this movie version of the book was outstanding. One of the main criticisms leveled at movie versions of books is that your own imagination makes things far “more” than any film could. For instance monsters in your head are far more scary than any special effects could make them. But the opposite was true here. I never would have guessed that the people in the book could be so horrible, that the squalor could be so extreme and that the atmosphere could be so stifling–I assume years of good breeding made me forget just how bad things used to be
Part of the fault also belongs to Dickens–he was writing for a contemporary audience–for people who didn’t need to be told, for instance, how old Pip was (they would just know) or how old he would need to be to receive his inheritance. The story was serialized in a magazine, so it was very current. And so those of us with a great remove from daily life in 1850 don’t always get the details we need. This is not to say that Dickens himself was not a master writer or an evocative picture creator. He often includes lots of details they are very helpful, but some things are left out. So the movie filled in gaps and details that I didn’t know, and they brought the book to life in a way that reading it alone didn’t. Again, no disrespect to the book–it’s the same way that seeing Shakespeare is better than reading him).
The movie starred Gillian Anderson–yes Agent Scully–and she was magnificent. Anderson lived in London for a time in her youth and she has always professed a love for classic literature (watch her in A Cock and Bull Story) and she plays a very convincing older lady (and since old age in 1850 was about 45, it works fine). She inhabits the looney Miss Havisham splendidly. She is pale and ghostly–soft spoken, very creepy and almost drugged. It almost seems like a caricature and yet after having read the book, you can tell it is spot on–Havisham has gone crazy, and Anderson is right there. And I know this is makeup and not Anderson, but geez, look how dry and painful her lips appear.
The rest of the cast is also excellent–I especially liked Wemmick (you really get the distinction between his business mode and his social mode) and Jaggers (who is perfect as an uptight businessman). I loved the setting–again, so much easier to fully experience the locations in the movie since I honestly didn’t know that these rooms were so lush and or squalid. Further, all of the “bad guys” were just so dirty and malevolent–England produces some really grotesque actors for their shows and they’re perfect. Orlick is far worse than I would have imagined. And holy cow, even though it was in the book, seeing Pip’s older sister being such a bitch was more shocking than reading about it.
The movie is three hours long, so there is some serious (and judicious) editing . I noted to myself how the first fifteen minutes of the movie cover something like the first 100 pages. And yet, you get a solid feeling for the book–and all of the complexities involved between the characters.
This movie is highly recommended.