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Great Expectations

CritiqueOther viewsQuotesText • At the movies

1946, 1981, 1989, 1998, 1999

Great Expectations first editionFirst edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication
1860–1861, serial in All the Year Round periodical

First book publication
1861 in three volumes

Literature form

Literary, Gothic romance

Writing language

Author's country

Approx. 189,000 words

Great Expectations 1981 scene
Miss Havisham (Joan Hickson) manipulates Estella (Sarah-Jane Varley) in 1981 miniseries.

Low-key expectations

Great Expectations (1981): Television miniseries, twelve episodes, six hours; director Julian Amyes; writer James Andrew Hall; featuring Gerry Sundquist, Sarah-Jane Varley, Joan Hickson, Stratford Johns, Graham McGrath

For the whole story of Great Expectations on video—and I do meant the whole story—skip ahead to the 1981 BBC mini-series, which clocks in at nearly six hours in all. (I believe some versions are slightly shorter.)

This Great Expectations reeks of the British-classics-on-TV stereotype. It's very stagy, especially in the overlit indoor scenes—one can sense the studio lights just out of camera range. And how about all that perfect 1970s-style hair and those beautiful, clean costumes that everyone wears, no matter how lowly the characters.

But this is a good film to start with to get all the ideas of the novel without actually having to read the book. (Lazy English-lit students, take note.)

Nothing is left out in this slow, slow film. Even the dialogue is slow as characters at all levels of society talk in the fussy, overly polite manner typical of novels of the time—"I would be much obliged if you were to do me the honour of...." and so on.

Phillip Joseph as Joe Gargery appears not only too neat but too young for the blacksmith. The juvenile Estella, a Nordic blonde played by Patsy Kensit, seems unrelated to the mature Estella, a pinched brunette portrayed by Sarah-Jane Varley.

Pip however seems right, apart from his Partridge Family haircuts. The young Graham McGrath looks and acts exactly like the tyke who would grow into Gerry Sundquist as the older Pip.

But the juiciest roles in Great Expectations are always Magwitch and Miss Havisham. And they are admirably filled here. Stratford Johns is great both in the early menacing stages and later sentimental bits as the convict. But Joan Hickson (best known for her long-running Miss Marple mystery series) is magnificently decadent and self-pitying.

This is also a very low-key film, especially during the climactic river chase scenes which are over quickly without any of the action or drama of the novel (couldn't afford to rent an antique steamer, I suppose). Anti-climactic really.

Still, if you want to painstakingly review the whole novel, get this tape or DVD from the library.

— Eric


CritiqueOther viewsQuotesText • At the movies

1946, 1981, 1989, 1998, 1999