Great Expectations

I don’t make a secret of the fact that I don’t watch TV, and didn’t really do so over the Christmas holiday. However, I did catch the new BBC adapation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations which I think is one of the greatest novels in all literature. I wasn’t that keen to watch it, after seeing several pointless modern films of the story that didn’t do justice either to the original novel or to the marvellous 1946 film directed by David Lean, which I think is one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s not that I think people shouldn’t do remakes of classic stories – great novels can bear many different versions – it’s just that they’re often done with neither wit nor imagination and the end result can be so obviously inferior that one wonders why it was ever released. The recent remake of the perfect Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers, for example, was such total crap from start to finish it made me want to beat the director over the head with a blunt instrument.

In the end, though, I was persuaded to watch it and was very impressed indeed with the new version.   Douglas Booth, who plays the teenage Pip, as well as being an extraordinarily handsome young man, is also a fine actor. The young Pip’s encounter with the convict Magwitch (played by Ray Winstone) in Episode 1 was every bit as memorable as the older film, but I’ve decided to put the latter up here to encourage those who haven’t been fortunate enough to see the classic version.

I’m interested in suggestions of best and worst remakes….so feel free to add yours through the comments box.

32 Responses to “Great Expectations”

  1. Ian Douglas Says:

    I’ve only seen the first episode but I was greatly impressed with Ray WInstone’s Magwitch. Slightly hammy pie-eating, but apart from that very good.

    For a truly terrible remake, look no further than the Italian Job.

    • The photography of the scenes on the marshes was also very beautifully done.

      The last episode is on tonight – and I can’t wait for the heart-rending scene when Magwitch meets Pip again.

    • I’ve never seen the remake of the Italian Job. I just knew it would be shite, and everyone I know who has seen it agrees with that judgement.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    If remake means second or later film of a book or play, then best goes to Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. Despite one or two fairly obvious faults, Branagh understands both Shakespeare and the medium of cinema (normally you get one or the other with films of Shakespeare), and it is an uncut version of perhaps the greatest play ever. Magnificent.

    • It’s set in the 19th century. Do you consider this a fault or are you referring to something else?

      This raises the general question of dress and sets for Shakespeare’s plays. Should Julius Caesar, say, be performed in Roman, Elizabethan, modern or some other dress? Roman because he was a Roman. Elizabethan since that’s how it was performed in Shakespeare’s day. Modern since in Shakespeare’s time Elizabethan was modern, so today it should be our modern. Or something completely different, say 1920s Scotland?

      I don’t like the last of these four alternatives: what’s the point? I also don’t like the modern alternative. Yes, in some sense that is what Shakespeare did, but a) it is usually done to hammer home some trivial point and b) we are used to historical dramas having historical costumes, while Shakespeare’s audience wasn’t. I thus opt for historical costumes if the drama itself is most important, while I prefer Elizabethan (or Jacobean) if the Bard himself is more important.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I think Branagh set it when he did for visual sumptuousness. There are not many jarring anachronisms between the mediaeval and early 19th century, so it transposes easily – whereas such a plot wouldn’t transpose to the era of modern transport and mobile phones, for instance. (When directors try that sort of thing I agree that it is silly.)

      The main weakness is the bad acting from some big cinema stars in minor roles, presumably friends of Branagh’s flattered to be asked, and brought in to bolster box office. Performing Shakespeare really finds people out. The Duke of Marlborough himself, whose home doubled as Elsinore, did a better job than Gerard Depardieu IMHO. Not to mention Charlton Heston and Billy Crystal.

      Could Peter insert the embarrassing missing letter ‘l’ into a word in my original post above?

  3. I should mention that another of my favourite films – The Maltese Falcon (1941) directed by John Huston – is in fact a remake of an earlier version made in 1931, which is devoid of all the classic film noir touches that make the later one so memorable (and also doesn’t have anything like as strong a cast). The earlier film was later renamed Dangerous Female to avoid confusion with the better version.

  4. Yvonne Nobis Says:

    ‘The Wicker Man’ (2006) remake with Nicholas Cage is truly, truly awful…

    • My wife and I saw the Wicker Man somewhat by mistake. I think we went to see a Julie Christie film but got the time wrong. “The Wicker Man” became a codeword between us for anything particularly horrible.
      It was the most frightful film (being caught out by the plot) we ever saw.

  5. I’m actually reading Great Expectations right now, filling in one of the many large gaps in my literary education. What a great book. And the Maltese Falcon is one of my favorite movies too, although I rank the Big Sleep above it.

  6. […] View the original here: Great Expectations « In the Dark […]

  7. Does anyone know the name of the piano piece played by Estella?

  8. I unfortunately missed the 3 episodes of Gt Expectations and i cannot find them on the BBC iplayer. It does seem a shame its not on there. Some people have to work over the xmas period. Any help please. Where can i see the episodes?

  9. Dennis Young Says:

    The piece of music played by Estella is called, ” Che faro senza Euridice,” by Gluck.

  10. Dennis Young Says:

    You could try Kathlleen Ferrier’s version. It is from Orpheus and Euridice, I believe the English translation is, “What is life if thou art dead?”

    • telescoper Says:

      I know the piece quite well. A literal English translation of the lyric would be “What will will I do without Euridice”. Not sure that’s the piece that’s played by Estella on the piano, however…

  11. On second thoughts, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Gluck piece, which I know well – anyone got any more ideas??

  12. Is there only the 3 episodes of this programme, wish there was more, i really enjoyed it.

  13. Have just had time to watch all 3 episodes, recorded whilst working over Christmas and New Year, Winston and Suchet were absolutely amazing, as ever, but did the script writer ever acually read the book before he began this ‘version’ to my mind there was so much artistry and not enough fact, sorry but a bit of a Dickens purist, poor man will be turning in his grave at this production, dissapointed in BBC

  14. From Australia, Episode 1 was very good IMO. Ecept for the silly anachronistic letter. Why don’t writers know about writing in the era they are depicting ? (” yourself” = you, “sincerely yours” – gertaway!)

    But young Pip was very good ; so were the relatives. The neurodermatitis on Miss H was a great touch.

  15. I thoroughly enjoyed this mini series, I have not read the book and did not know the story.

    I am very keen to learn the name of the music played for the waltz when Pip took Estella to the ball in episode 2 – I have searched but there does not appear to be a OST release or a listing anywhere of the music.

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