4 January 2012 | TheLittleSongbird
Generally excellent, but is it the best version?
So far of this great Dickens work, I've seen three versions, the 1946 David Lean film, this 1999 adaptation and the recent 2011 series airing just at Christmas(the Alfonso Cuaron is top-priority on my to see list). I did find this adaptation to be excellent and solid enough as an adaptation of the book, but I questioned is it the best version.
While this version has for me the better adult Estella and young Pip, the Lean version for its masterly storytelling, the cleverly written narration from Pip's viewpoint so we can identify with him and how much atmosphere there is at the beginning I have always considered one of the all-time great adaptations of any of Dickens' work. They are both superior though to the 2011 series, which had great production values and a wonderful support cast, but it is hindered by some rushed pacing and two miscast leads.
Back to this adaptation, it is wonderful to look at. The costumes, lighting, sets and scenery look both striking and atmospheric especially Miss Havisham's mansion, and the haunting camera angles are equally good. The music score is magnificent, in fact I haven't heard a music score for a TV adaptation this good for a while now. The writing is intelligent and has the basic wit of Dickens' prose and the storytelling particularly with Miss Havisham is compelling.
Of the storytelling, I was engrossed throughout, but there were two things that didn't quite sit well with me. One was the ending, granted the closing line of the book is ambiguous, but to me the ending was reminiscent of a 19th century Can You Feel the Love Tonight, which I am not sure Dickens intended. Another is that there are moments when adult Pip is shown to have a somewhat vindictive side, which for some reason made me identify less with him.
That said, the direction is tight and assured, and I never felt the drama was sluggish or rushed. The cast are superb. Ioan Gruffodd has rarely been better than he was here, he does look very handsome(without being too much so that is) and he is charismatic. Of the three adaptations in regard to adult Estella, I think this adaptation is the only one to get it completely right, Lean's was competently portrayed if too sweet and the 2011 series had an Estella that was too plain and too expressionless. This Estella was complex and tragic, Justine Waddell as well as being very beautiful brought these across perfectly.
Great Expectations(1999) also has the best of the three young Pips in Gabriel Thomson. I liked Anthony Wager and Oscar Kennedy well enough, but Thomson looked cute and innocent while never coming across as bland. Gemma Gregory is excellent as well as young Estella. Of the adult support cast, there is much to credit. Daniel Evans brings Herbert Pocket to so much life, more so than any of his other acting counterparts, Emma Cunniffe proves an ideal anti-thesis to Estella and Tony Curran is very good as Orlick.
On top of that, we have a heart-breaking Joe Gargery in Clive Russell, Lesley Sharp shines as usual, Ian McDiarmid is a complex Jaggers and Bernard Hill is terrific as Magwitch. My personal favourite performance goes to Charlotte Rampling, she is a revelation as Miss Havisham, there is such a sinister quality to her performance I felt myself getting chills.
Overall, excellent with a great cast but for atmosphere and even better quality of storytelling I also heartily recommend Lean's film. 8/10 Bethany Cox