Posted: 04/01/2012



by Del Harvey

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An orphan boy meets an escaped convict, a crazy old woman, and a bewitching girl. He grows up with great expectations for his future from all who know him, thanks to a mysterious benefactor who will not be revealed to him until he comes of age.

Charles Dicken’s classic rags-to-riches tale premieres on PBS Masterpiece Classic on Sunday, April 1st. Check local listings for times.

This beautifully filmed version stars Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, Bleak House) as the haunted spinster Miss Havisham, a bride-to-be who was jilted at the altar years before. Now she wears her graying and faded wedding gown every day. And it looks as though she might sleep in it, as well. She has shuttered the room where the wedding banquet was to occur, with five-tier cake and full table settings, now covered in floor-to-ceiling spider webs and decades of dust. A fossilized wedding feast which serves as a reminder to Miss Havisham as to why she bears such intense hatred for the male sex.

Newcomer Douglas Booth stars as Pip, the promising young man who is snared in Miss Havisham’s lair. On the way to becoming a gentleman, he falls in love with Miss Havisham’s beautiful adopted daughter, Estella, played here by Vanessa Kirby.

David Suchet (Poirot) co-stars as Jaggers, Miss Havisham’s crack attorney and holder of many dark secrets. Ray Winstone is perfectly menacing as the fugitive Abel Magwitch, who is by turns dangerous, vengeful, and recklessly loyal. Shaun Dooley (South Riding) stars as the kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery, Pip’s brother-in-law and childhood hero.

Great Expectations airs during the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth and marks the fifteenth Masterpiece adaptation of the great novelist’s works. Other adaptations include Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and David Copperfield.

Great Expectations opens with Pip as a boy on the marshes near his home, where he encounters the desperate escapee Magwitch. Pip is coerced by Magwitch into stealing a metal file so that the convict may break his chains. But the boy willingly shares a piece of meat pie to feed the famished man, which begins the classic coming-of-age film about innate kindness and learned indifference. Young Pip expects no more from life than to join his brother-in-law Joe at the blacksmith’s forge. But fate intervenes when the neighboring, rich, eccentric Miss Havisham seeks Pip out as a playmate for her adopted daughter, Estella. This sets Pip upon a course that sees him tested in many ways, not the least of which in being thrown into a wish-fulfillment paradise for a young man, where he has the pleasures of London at his disposal and true love - and great expectations - in his future.

Great Expectations airs on subsequent Sundays, April 1st and 8th, on PBS. Check local listings for showtimes.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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