I thought the new version of Great Expectations was going to be something special when I saw Ray Winstone’s Magwitch emerging from the Essex marshes like some beast from the primeval slime, but unfortunately I was to be disappointed.
At best it was prettily watchable but at no point showed any of the darkness or humour of Dickens’s story. None of the characters generated much emotion in me – Magwitch was OK, Pip was a nonentity, Estella had neither the beauty nor the viciousness of the original, and Gillian Anderson came across as a woman who had slipped through the social welfare net, hadn’t been assigned a care worker and would soon be collecting a house full of cats. She was, however, as presumably intended, rather hot in a disturbing way. Drummle I began to take a liking to, precisely because I wasn’t supposed to – not least because the scriptwriter clearly indicated we should make the political connection – “not one of us” – get it?
In general there was too much light and not enough darkness. Miss Havisham’s house should be gloomy and enclosed; instead it was all pastel shades, candles and windows. The scenes on the marshes were also too full of light. Characters and events have to be discarded in adaptations in order to concentrate on the essentials but in this case the treatment of the essentials was superficial. The insertion of scenes not in the original, such as Drummle in the brothel, only pointed up a lack of respect for the story. What we ended up watching was a well-produced but bland, emotionally thin and unconvincing love story.