THE BLOG

Innocence and Expectation

08/01/2013 02:09 pm ET | Updated Oct 01, 2013

Great Expectations, the television miniseries made in 2011, was one of those few, rare films which I enjoyed as much as the book. Dickens' storytelling has a quality that cannot be put on screen, but the main characters were so cleverly translated that I felt the exact same way about them after the film, that I did after the novel.

The 1998 adaptation took the story to New York City which, in itself, put a different spin on it. The story was also modernized so that Pip (or Finn, in this adaptation) gained his fortune through his artistic talents. This did change the dynamic a little between Estella and Pip, in the sense that the change in lifestyle for Pip was more visible, tangible and entirely personal. When Estella rejected him even after he was worthy of her in the eyes of society, it only emphasized the purpose that she had and the role she played in Pip's life, as a weapon of vengeance on men.

What was so much better about the miniseries was that the irony of Miss Havisham's plan was captured perfectly in Estella's performance. Her infliction of unhappiness upon Pip and her own unhappiness were intertwined, but this was revealed very subtly. It seemed throughout the first two-thirds of the series that Estella was a true instrument of her mother's will, without feeling or emotion. Later however, it becomes clear that a lot of her cruelty is not due to her own uncaring nature, but a direct result of being forced by her mother to ignore her natural sensibility and female tendencies. Vanessa Kirby's (Estella) icy and untouchable facade was flawless, but she allowed it to crack on occasion, just enough to show us she, herself, was trapped, like Pip, in a lifestyle that prevented her from finding happiness.

Helena Bonham Carter's performance as Miss Havisham, in 2012, made me think that a combination of the casts of these three adaptations could have an interesting effect. I felt that her interpretation brought across the mad ravings, and the hysteria of Miss Havisham beautifully, but she seemed to me to miss the deep pain that drove her to dedicate the rest of her life, and Estella's life, to revenge and bitterness. Gillian Anderson, on the other hand, convinced me that she was severely damaged by the pain she suffered, but the way she interacted with the other characters was too similar to Estella, and not enough like Dickens' mentally unhinged Miss Havisham.

What really made the 2011 adaptation as good as the novel was the portrayal of Pip. Douglas Booth managed to carry an element of innocence from the unhappy childhood of the boy through to Pip as an adult. Dickens leaves his readers with the impression that this innocence allowed Pip to love a person like Estella, and to keep loving her despite the odds and even after he understood her purpose because he truly knew who she was. That impression was evident throughout Pip and Estella's encounters, and more specifically, in the way that he continued to look at her.