Great Expectations Novel/Adaptations

As winter comes round I love snuggling up with a great classic novel.. this week’s choice was Dickens’ Great Expectations. I have read this novel a while back and I thought it was definitely time to revisit! On a second reading, it was just as intense and weirdly disturbing as the initial foray into the world of Pip, Magwitch, Estella & Miss Havisham. For anyone who hasn’t read this novel, I cannot recommend it highly enough- Dickens novels generally have the habit of being quite sprawling with lots of different characters and side plots, but this novel is beautifully and tightly constructed. The narrative is written from the perspective of Pip, who starts the novel off as a young boy who meets and helps an escaped convict on the marshes. From the very start then, the novel is weirdly eerie and it only gets more disturbing when Pip is invited to ‘play’ at Miss Havisham’s, a woman who was jilted on her wedding day and lives surrounded by the decaying remnants of her wedding feast. Estella is Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter ( adopted to “wreak revenge on the entire male sex”), who Pip finds himself falling in love with. I won’t give away too much of the plot, as it really would spoil it, but I will say it is packed full of true Dickensian drama. I personally think this is one of the top ten novels in the English language (at least!) and definitely Dickens best novel (or maybe joint best with Tale of Two Cities!).

After completing the novel I pulled out my copy of the BBC adaptation of Great Expectations, starring Ioan Gruffudd as Pip and Justine Waddell as Estella and I honestly did think it was a good version albeit with some weird casting choices. The plot does closely follow the novel (always a must with great period drama adaptations imho!) and captures the disturbing qualities of the novel. The only flaw I found, was as I mentioned, with the casting choices for some of the characters. Whilst Charlotte Rampling is a great Miss Havisham, Ian McDiarmid was not quite the Jaggers (the lawyer who reveals Pip’s ‘Great Expectations’) I expected. I think is because in my head I had the vision of Francis L Sullivan who plays Jaggers in the 1946 adaptation. This older version is incidentally a really beautiful film which is an absolute must-see and totally captures the essence of the novel. Of the two versions, therefore I do prefer the latter but for reasons that I can’t quite pinpoint.. Maybe others feel the same? I guess casting decisions are always so subjective

In conclusion therefore, I think it is clear I am a Great Expectations fan.. I finish then with my favourite quote from the novel.

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. “

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