Here is yet another British series adaptation of Charles Dicken’s beloved classic tale Great Expectations. This time, screenwriter Steven Knight has reimagined (more accurately, bastardised) a timeless classic into something more contemporary by infusing the dialogue with modern-day foul language and liberal references to sexual references that have nothing to do with the original source or the main plot. They also cast a black actress in the pivotal character of Estella, the abused orphan who becomes our hero, Pip’s love interest. I have no objections to reinventing a well-known work of literature if it adds value to the plot, but in this case, it all feels very “woke”, unnatural, and superfluous. This version of Great Expectations is so off track that at times I felt like I was watching a typical modern-day thriller that is just dressed up like the 1800’s. This is especially apparent in what should have been the series’ strong finale involving all the main characters facing their destination. Charles Dickens would probably turn in his grave if he saw this version!
The casting could have been better. Not even the presence of the usually reliable excellence of Academy Award winner Olivia Colman (as the long-suffering Miss Havisham who is perpetually nursing her wounded heart from being stood up by her husband to be on her wedding day) could save the overall lack of finesse in the performances. Fionn Whitehead, who plays the adult Pip, is adequate but falls short of making his Pip stand out. He is frequently overshadowed by his co-stars, including Johnny Harris as Magwitch and Ashley Thomas as Mr Jaggers. As I previously stated, the film makers appear to believe that people in the 1800s cursed and swore like they do now, and that the F* bomb and C* words were regularly used. This interpretation also makes everyone appear to be unlikeable and dismal characters. I believe Charles Dickens’ works are never this depressing and are sometimes fairly amusing. This version is sadly devoid of any humour or fun.
While I have generally given the series a negative review, I am still going to give it two stars, which means it is just tolerable. This is primarily for the production value, costumes, and sets. It is also to acknowledge the efforts made to create a version that is distinct from the normal adaptations. Too bad the end result comes across as just a passable watch.