OPINION: Do we REALLY need another BBC One adaptation of Great Expectations?

26 Mar 2023, 19:02
24 Mar 2023, 17:54

BBC One, Fionn Whitehead, Great Expectations, Olivia Colman, Shalom Brune-Franklin

A new adaptation of Great Expectations is about to land on BBC One, but is it any different to the countless other depictions of the famous novel? Here’s our review.

The new series starts on Sunday night (March 26, 2023) and has a glittering cast list of famous faces.

You’ll get no argument from us that Olivia Colman is an inspired choice as the infamous literary villain Miss Havisham.

But is there more to the six-part series than a bunch of famous faces and a huge budget?

Great Expectations on BBC One: Olivia Colman, Fionn Whitehead and Shalom Brune-Franklin as Miss Havisham, Pip and Estella (Credit: SFX Networks/Pari Dukovic)

Do we really need another adaptation of Great Expectations?

Great Expectations is one of the most famous novels ever written.

And it’s stood the test of time.

Unbelievably perhaps, Charles Dickens’ 13th novel was first published in 1861.

It’s definitely our favourite Dickens novel of all time.


As much as we were looking forward to watching the new adaptation, it just felt a bit meh.

Despite the impressive cast, and amazing sets, we know the story SO well that it doesn’t feel different enough to past adaptations.

And there have been plenty of them!

In 2011, the BBC One churned out another adaptation of Great Expectations.

This time, Gillian Anderson portrayed the vicious Miss Havisham, alongside Douglas Booth as Pip, and Vanessa Kirby as Estella.

There was also a 1998 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke, and another one in 2012 with Helena Bonham Carter and Holliday Grainger.

I won’t list them all as there are too many, but suffice to say there have been dozens of adaptations since the very first version in 1934.

Viewers slam BBC decision to make another series of famous novel

BBC One licence fee payers have given their own review and questioned why the channel has made yet another version of Great Expectations.

One wrote: “Come on, BBC: we need new stories not yet another Dickens adaptation.”

Another said: “I love Great Expectations, but another TV adaptation of it!?

“Didn’t they do one not that long ago with Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham?

“There’s so many other Dickens works crying out to be adapted…”

A third added: “My gripe is why yet another adaptation of Great Expectations?

“There are many other Dickens‘ novels that lend themselves to a reboot, refresh, adaptation.”

One more complained: “Another TV adaptation of Great Expectations. Does anyone want to tell the @BBCOne that Charles Dickens actually wrote more than one book?”

“I love Dickens AND Olivia Colman,” wrote another, “but do we really need another adaptation of Great Expectations?”

BBC One are you listening?

The ill-fated Estella and Pip in Great Expectations (Credit: FX Networks/Miya Mizuno)

Great Expectations review: Is BBC One series worth watching?

So do we really need another adaptation of Great Expectations? Probably not, no.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t easily pass six hours watching this series.

Peaky Blinders’ creator Steven Knight just hasn’t managed to make his version different enough to warrant the new spin, but Olivia Colman is undoubtedly mesmerising as Miss Havisham.

Some might find the adaptation lacking in imagination.

Others might find the scenes are so dark, you’ll be trying to adjust the screen on your TV.

Meanwhile, hardcore Dickens will probably take umbrage at the changes in the plot.

Steven Knight’s BBC One version of Great Expectations turns Miss Havisham into an opium addict and shows a bare-bottomed Mr Pumblechook (Matt Berry) being spanked in a dingy bedroom by Mrs Gargery.

There’s also plenty of swearing and violence.

But that probably won’t come as a surprise to those who saw his divisive adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

That portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge as a molested schoolboy who grew up to force Tiny Tim’s mother into prostitution.

We can’t help but wonder if Charles Dickens would be turning in his grave…?

There are ‘quite a few changes’ in Steven Knight’s adaptation

Colman, who plays the jilted Miss Havisham, has said she embraced the changes to the original text.

She said: “The first time I read Steven Knight’s script, I thought it was much darker than what I had remembered from school.

“Quite a few bottom-slapping moments, which I did not recall from the original Dickens!

“There were quite a few changes and I found it quite gripping.”

Meanwhile, Steven Knight said: “What I didn’t want to do – and I think Dickens never tried to do – was make something specifically political.

“He was never banging the drum, he was just saying ‘this is what’s going on’ and people could draw their own conclusions.

“You couldn’t write about certain things in Dickens’ time: Certain elements of sexuality, crime, disobedience against the crown and state.

“What I tried to do was imagine if Dickens was writing the story now and had the freedom to go to those darker places, what would he do?

“If he had been liberated to write the things that were going on that he wasn’t allowed to write about.”

Great Expectations review: Matt Berry’s character Mr Pumblechook is spanked! (Credit: FX Networks/Miya Mizuno)

Great Expectations review

The reviews are in and, on the whole, they aren’t pretty.

At the time of writing, the series had a score of 33 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Independent said: “Even with the infusion of sex and violence, it’s hard to feel excited about this new take on Dickens.

The desire to sex up Victoriana is predictable and lazy, and demonstrates an odd lack of imagination.”

Variety wrote: “Great Expectations has an electric Olivia Colman, but not enough else.”

Meanwhile, The Telegraph stated: “Charles Dickens is given a grim, macho, very Peaky makeover.

“It isn’t instantly clear why the BBC has made yet another adaptation of the great novel.”

The Evening Standard reviewer Melanie McDonagh described the series as “irreedembly awful”, adding: “I can’t think of an adaptation I’ve hated more.”

She went on to say: “It’s not so much a dramatisation of Great Expectation, as a hollowing out of it in order to accommodate a very different story and almost unrecognisable characters.

“And this version is so wholly and painfully different from the original as to warrant a warning to the viewer.

“Trouble is, lots of the audience nowadays will be unfamiliar with the book, and may confuse the two.”

It’s time to make up your own mind, so let us know what you think!

Read more: Who is Olivia Colman’s famous husband?

Great Expectations starts on Sunday, Match 26, 2023 at 9pm on BBC One.

Do you agree with our review of Great Expectations? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix.

Tags :

About the Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.