Saturday, April 2, 2016
Reads to Reels: Great Expectations
"Hallo! Here's a church. Let's go in. Hallo! Here's some gloves. Let's put `em on! Hallo! Here's Ms. Skiffins. Let's have a wedding!"
I've never done a reels this close on the heels to a read before, but there's no waiting with a movie that stars Ioan Gruffud and Ian McDiarmid! As soon as I discovered my library had this, I wanted to watch it, and waited only until I had finished the final pages of the book to begin. This version is a 1999 television miniseries, but I thought it was marvelous. Having just finished the book yesterday, of course, I caught a lot of the alterations made to the book. A lot of frankly tedious scenes are dispatched with single lines here while characters are moving to action to action, and the attempted escape exit of Pip's Mysterious Patron is simplified nicely. The Masterpiece host informed me at the end of the movie that there were two endings to Dickens' novel; the original had Estella married off to someone else, and a second ending left the matter of Pip and her relationship more ambiguous. The movie plays to the idea of the second ending, though in a far more spiriting way: the final shot is of Pip and Estella playing cards in a now-restored Satis house, not as lovers but together still.
Casting was on the whole superbly done, with the exception being Miss Haversham. Yes, that's her on the cover, looking considerably less deathly than she's described in the book. She looks more appropriately corpselike in the actual film, but was too lively for the part. Ian McDiarmid's casting as the lawyer Jaggers makes him absolutely sinister in retrospect, since the modern viewer is half expecting him to give a menacing smile and send Pip off on some murderous mission involving a sabre. I know Gruffud from the Horatio Hornblower movies, and here he looks and sounds very much like good ol' Horry. He starts the film off affecting a brogue, but once he begins his education as a gentleman he reverts to RP. (Hearing Gruffud speak with anything less is jarring, especially when he did an American accent in Fantastic Four.) As a curiosity, I'm tolerably sure the fellow who plays Wemmick (Jaggers' clerk and a friend to Pip) played the traitor Wolfe in the A&E movies, shot around the same time. He was a sterling addition here.
Good pacing, excellent actors, nice music -- the only fly in the soup here is that midway through, Masterpeice SPOILS THE MOVIE'S ENDING! It's a television miniseries, consisting of two episodes, and midway through they stick in the preview trailer for the second half. The trailer actually gives away the patron's identity long before he appears in the movie properly. I am astonished that PBS created a trailer that completely wrecks the twist, and doubly so that they stuck it into the middle of the film. If you watch it with someone who's never seen the film, you'll need to fast forward through that bit. Otherwise, it's a winner.