An adaptation of the Dickensian classic by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, Great Expectations stars Fionn Whitehead as Pip (with Tom Sweet playing a younger Pip), a young man who aspires for a greater lot in life than working under his blacksmith brother-in-law Joe (Owen McDonnell) and receives an opportunity to move up in the world when the reclusive and eccentric Miss Havisham (Olivia Colman) requests his presence as a companion for her adopted daughter Estella (Shalom Brune-Franklin, with Chloe Lea playing a younger Estella).
This adaptation of Great Expectations noticeably deviates from the source material in several ways, making structural and narrative changes to differentiate itself from the numerous other screen versions but inadvertently undercuts the drama and tension in the process.
For example, in the first episode, instead of starting with Pip being accosted by the unnamed convict, the show elects to start things slower and adds some extra opening scenes, including one of the convict’s escape, naming him and spelling out character dynamics that are only revealed much later in the original text.
Pip is also considerably older in these earlier scenes than he is in the original, and the narrative goes out of its way to try and massage this version of its protagonist into the story in ways that feel very awkward and aren’t particularly interesting to watch.
While these kinds of tweaks aren’t necessarily a bad thing, their implementation in this rendition of the novel feels more like changes made for the sake of change than earnest attempts to explore the narrative and ends up adversely affecting the pacing.
This adaptation is dark tonally and visually, with murky lighting and a cold palette that creates an atmosphere of misery that permeates the drama. Unfortunately, this dreary aesthetic doesn’t help with the overall allure, and the presentation here fails to capture Great Expectations’ charm, washing the narrative in a sea of grey.
Overall, this version of Great Expectations isn’t all bad, but there’s not a lot here to grab the interest or imagination of its audience. In its attempts to achieve capital “P” Prestige, this adaptation seems to have neglected the universal appeal of the original story and doesn’t do much to justify its existence. There’s room for things to turn around, but from the opening episode, the show doesn’t inspire faith in its storytelling.
Great Expectations is released on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on 26th March 2023.
Watch the trailer for Great Expectations here: