Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: Great Expectations (2011)

My dear readers, I know I've been a little irregular in posting reviews, and I am most sorry for it. Things at school have gotten very busy lately, so I haven't had as much time to watch/review period dramas. But don't worry! School will be done for me at the start of May, so I will be back to posting reviews regularly. In the meanwhile, here is a review of the new Great Expectations to tide you over until my next review.

Well, Downton Abbey is over for another year... Now what to watch on Masterpiece Classic? Oh! Great Expectations will be playing soon! And so over a couple of weeks, I sat and watched Great Expectations. I had seen the 90s version starring Ioan Gruffudd and Justine Waddell, but didn't particularly care for it. But I thought I could watch this new version and see how it compares to the 90s version.

DVD Box Art
Young Pip is invited to the home of Miss Havisham to entertain her and Estella, a orphan that she raised after her fiancee abandoned her on her wedding day. Years later, Pip comes into a great fortune from an unknown benefactor that quickly changes his life. (Synopsis taken from my review of Great Expectations (1999))

There are some familiar faces in this miniseries that you may have seen in other period dramas. Miss Havisham is played by Gillian Anderson, who is also seen in Bleak House. Herbert Pocket is played by Harry Lloyd, who can been seen in Robin Hood and the recent version of Jane Eyre (and also the recent movie The Iron Lady). Herbert's fiancee, Clara, is played by Perdita Weeks, who was Lydia Bennet in Lost in Austen. And Jaggers is played by David Suchet, who was Melmotte in The Way We Live Now. Other than those faces, the rest of the cast was pretty new to me.

Miss Havisham is portrayed differently in this version of Great Expectations than the other version that I've seen. In the 1999 version, she was portrayed as being fully spiteful and always seeking revenge. In this one, she is still spiteful, but she is also a little insecure. There is a more sympathetic view taken of Miss Havisham in this miniseries. Spoiler Towards the end of the miniseries, Miss Havisham tells Pip that she wanted to hurt him and everyone else and that she was sorry for it and asks for Pip's forgiveness, which Pip grants. Also, the way Miss Havisham died in this miniseries was also different from the 1999 version (and from what I've read/heard, the book also). From what I've seen/heard/read about, in the book Miss Havisham was having an argument with Pip when she stood too close to the fire and caught on fire; even though Pip manages to put out the fire, she still dies from the burns. In this version, her and Pip have a talk (where she asks for his forgiveness) and Pip leaves; Miss Havisham proceeded to take what looked like love letters and her old bouquet, put on her wedding veil and proceeded down the stairs to the fireplace where she individually burns the letters and bouquet and drops them into the fireplace. One of those items happened to land too closely to her and lit her on fire. Pip, walking away outside, turns around to see that something has caught on fire at Satis House and runs back to help where, it is implied, is too late. Not sure how I feel about this interpretation other than I know it is different from the book. To me, it seemed like the film makers got a little artsy with this scene where they could have left the scene alone and do it like it was in the book.  End of Spoiler Between this Miss Havisham and the 90s one, I think I like this one a little bit more maybe because I got to see more of her and understand her better.

Various Characters from Great Expectations. From Left to
Right: Abel Magwitch, Estella Havisham, Miss Havisham,
Pip, and Jaggers.
Along with Miss Havisham, Estella is portrayed softer in this version. Miss Havisham does bring her up to not love, but I think that the way Estella is portrayed, she really does have feelings for Pip in spite of Miss Havisham's harsh upbringing. Estella warns Pip not to return to Satis House because of all the suffering there. Even when she says that she only used Pip, you could tell in her face that she didn't want to and that she felt bad about it. Spoiler Even on the way to her wedding to Drummle, she wants to stop the wedding (probably knowing that she has feelings for Pip and that Drummle would make her very unhappy), but she was forced to go through with it. End of Spoiler So, this Estella was more sympathetic than the other version. This Estella is portrayed as being powerless to everything going on around her. If Estella can be likable, this one was probably the most likable than the other Estella I've seen.

Of all the characters in this Great Expectations, the best character has to be Herbert Pocket. He was probably the most stable out of all the characters: no hidden back story, he cares for other characters, and he has no visible vices. Sure he got into a little fight with Pip when they were younger, but he grew out of it! He was probably my favorite character in the entire miniseries.

Pip... Not sure what to make of this Pip. I don't particularly care for the way that they made him look (more on that later). The acting was okay, I guess, but it didn't really stand out for me. Comparing this Pip to Ioan Gruffudd's Pip, I would say that they just about tie. Looking back on Ioan Gruffudd's Pip and this Pip, neither of them really made much of an impression on me. I will say that I liked younger Pip better than older Pip. I felt so bad for young Pip: everyone always mistreated him except for Joe Gargery, his sister's husband.

Great Expectations is a bleak story, so don't expect the scenery to be very cheery. Many of the scenes were filmed in a greyish overtone, which reflected the tone of the story. The problem with that was that many characters looked extremely pale, like ghosts, in some scenes. I could understand Miss Havisham looking very pale, but not Pip or the other characters (well, maybe Estella, but probably not). My personal opinion is that I didn't care for the grey scenery, but it does fit in with the story.

Dining Hall of Satis House

Satis House was extremely dirty and the film makers made of point of it. There was a lot of mold growing in the house and even puddles? Now, I haven't read Great Expectations, so this could be a accurate portrayal of the house, but it seems to me like there isn't anyone that could live in that house without getting sick. How did Miss Havisham raise Estella there without either of them becoming gravely ill? I am glad that in this adaptation they left out the rats crawling all over the tables like the 1999 version. *Shutters*

The costumes were okay. The fashionable ladies wore what looked like 1830s fashions towards the end of the miniseries, which leads me to think that the story took place over about 20 years (starting at 1812 and ending sometime in the 1830s).

Miss Havisham in her wedding dress.
Miss Havisham wore the same wedding dress that she had on for years (which is fitting). From the look of her wedding dress, it looks like she was supposed to be married sometime in the early Regency era. But this puts into question what her age really is. If the story starts in 1812 and we assume that Pip and Estella are about 7 and since Miss Havisham adopted Estella shortly after she was abandoned at the alter, I would say that Miss Havisham should have gotten married about 1805, so that would fall in the right era. Now, as for calculating Miss Havisham's age, that might be a little more difficult. If we assume she got married at 20, and we assume that Pip grows up to be about 27 or 28 before getting his inheritance, that would make Miss Havisham 45 by the end of the story (and 27 when the story begins): 27 is extremely young to have white hair, and at 45, she would still be too young to have completely white hair (unless it turned white prematurely when she was in her 20s). If she was an older bride, maybe 28?, that would make her 53 at the end, which is still young to have completely white hair. I guess I'm wondering about how they presented Miss Havisham's age. From the look of her face, she looks fairly young, but haggard, but the white hair makes her look older.

...Anyways! Onto another subject!

Estella and Pip after dancing.
I'm sorry, but I have issues with the way Pip and Estella looked. To me, Pip looked too girly and Estella wasn't girly enough. Estella didn't look terrible, but compared to Pip, Pip was the one that looked more girly. I don't know if it was something they did in makeup, but still that vexed me.

Estellas gowns were nice and pretty to look at. I do question some of their accuracy, however. Many of her dresses showed off her entire shoulder. For the 1830s, part of the shoulder was starting to be shown off, but I don't think it was as much as Estella was showing.

Overall: 2.5/5
Well, I know I rated this higher than the 90s version, but I'm still not quite sure which one I liked better. With this one, I felt like I knew the story better, but the other one was a little lighter (did I just say that?). Throughout most of the miniseries, I didn't particularly care for it, but I will say that it did get better towards the end. Content-wise, there is some violence and blood and some suggestive themes. If it was in theaters, it may earn a PG-13 Rating.

Great Expectations is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. It is made up of three one hour long episodes.


  1. I completely agree with your review of this! I haven't seen the 1999 versioin, though I may look it up now, but I kind of had a love/hate relationship with this miniseries. It was dark, and I did like the lighting, since it created the right atmosphere, but the characters...I didn't even like older Pip for the longest time, and Estella seemed selfish and cruel for most of the series. I agree that Herbert was the most likeable character--he was so sweet, and selfless as opposed to some of the other characters.


  2. It's interesting to hear your thoughts. I reviewed this too, but found it thoroughly enjoyable. Unlike some other period dramas in the romance genre, Great Expectations is not meant to be light and fluffy, so I can understand why you or others might not like it. However, I thought it was, overall, an accurate, fresh adaptation of the novel, which is what I personally look for. It was also entertaining and visually stunning, although some parts were a bit to grizzly for my liking. But, this is Dickens, after all! Also, I thought that the grey, saturated look was meant to depict the grey 'Dickensian London' which he trademarked through his writing. It made scenes a lot more atmospheric!


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