Great Expectations

Novel, 1861
Great Expectations (1946)

Director David Lean; writers Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, three others; featuring John Mills, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson, Jean Simmons, Tony Wager, Finlay Currie

Great Expectations (1981)

Miniseries: director Julian Amyes; writer James Andrew Hall; featuring Gerry Sundquist, Sarah-Jane Varley, Joan Hickson, Stratford Johns, Graham McGrath

Great Expectations (1989)

Miniseries: director Kevin Connor; writer John Goldsmith; featuring Anthony Calf, Jean Simmons, Anthony Hopkins, John Rhys-Davies

Great Expectations (1998)

Director Alfonso Cuarón; writer Mitch Glazer; featuring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow. Robert De Niro, Anne Bancroft

Great Expectations (1999)

Miniseries: director Julian Jarrold; writer Tony Marchant featuring Ioan Gruffuld, Charlotte Rampling, Ian McDiarmid

Great Expectations


Great Expectations 1989 scene

She's baaack: Jean Simmons returns to Great Expectations as Miss Havisham this time.

Missing expectations

Slightly shorter than the comprehensive BBC miniseries of 1981–1982 at about five hours is the 1989 Great Expectations series that some think the best ever made for television.

It's a lushly produced, appropriately atmospheric adaptation that is also faithful to the novel, without being slavishly so. At about five hours in length, the series has enough time to fit in most of Dickens's plot points while doing justice to the minor characters, without bogging down in stagy theatrics like some other long adaptations.

The most noteworthy aspect of this version, however, may be the casting—especially for all the off-beat character roles.

Academy award-winner Anthony Hopkins portrays the mysterious criminal Magwitch, for which he was nominated for an Emmy. And fellow Oscar winner Jean Simmons, who had played Estella in 1946, is now a wasting-away Miss Havisham. She obviously really knows how to play the part of the demented, domineering old lady and controls every scene she's in, despite having the distinct disadvantage of appearing too healthy and goodlooking for the part.

That's two great actors effectively chewing up the scenery. Add to their ranks the estimable John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Lord of the Rings movies). As Joe Gargery, he's gruff but wonderfully warm-hearted, bringing to life a usually one-dimensional Dickens character.

Then stage actor Anthony Calf, who has become familiar on numerous British TV shows since this time, is an admirably weak-willed Pip as an adult. It's tricky to keep Dickens's leading character likable without getting either too bland or two annoyingly full of himself but Calf nails it.

Opposite him, Kim Thomson—also a familiar face in British TV, film and theatre—is a natural, playing the the icy-cold Estella as both girl and woman.

Director Kevin Connor, who may be the king of English TV movies, pulls the talent together to create one of the most appreciated takes on Great Expectations.

— Eric



Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

See also:

A Christmas Carol

David Copperfield

Oliver Twist

On Amazon:

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Great Expectations

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