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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 1989 scene
She's back: Jean Simmons returns to Great Expectations as Miss Havisham this time.

Missing expectations

Great Expectations (1989): Television miniseries, three to six episodes, five hours; director Kevin Connor; writer John Goldsmith; featuring Anthony Calf, Jean Simmons, Anthony Hopkins, John Rhys-Davies

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 offbeat 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 good looking 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


CritiqueOther viewsQuotesText • At the movies

1946, 1981, 1989, 1998, 1999