‘Not even the great Olivia Colman can rescue the BBC’s Woke Desecrations’: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS blasts ‘imbecilic’ re-imagining of Great Expectations – which sees Miss Havisham as an opium addict – as a ‘joyless travesty’ in scathing ONE-STAR review
How Charles Dickens would have loved and hated the pan-jandrums of the BBC. Loved laughing at them, hated them for ruining his finest story.
Ferociously protective of his novels and his characters, he could never have forgiven the corporation for this joyless travesty of Great Expectations (BBC1).
But it’s easy to imagine his hoots of gleeful contempt at the arrogance, ignorance and self-satisfied stupidity that has gone into its making. Dickens spent his career satirising hypocritical clergymen and deceitful lawyers, pompous, petty officials and incompetent blowhards.
What fun he’d have had with the executives of Broadcasting House – Mr Josiah Stallywart the Corporate Executive Producer, Miss Creempufe the Controller of Digital Portfolio Content, Mr Wyseacre the Head of In-House Creative, or Mrs Anunciata Wimpletop, the Senior Editorial Editor.
If only the Inimitable Boz had lived long enough to sneer at the goings-on in W1A, that inspired mockumentary series which satirised BBC management.
But then again, it’s a good job for his sake he didn’t. His beloved Great Expectations has been mashed up into Woke Desecrations.
The spine-chilling first chapter, where Magwitch the escaped convict seizes young Pip by the throat in a graveyard at night, was relegated to a scene halfway through the episode.
Worse, Steven Knight, who wrote the adaptation, discarded much of the language that makes the moment so unforgettably frightening.
In the novel, Magwitch tells Pip he has a friend, hiding in the darkness, who can find his victim wherever he hides. ‘A boy may lock his door, may be warm in bed, may tuck himself up, may draw the clothes over his head’… but still the killer will ‘softly creep and creep his way to him and tear him open’.
What chilling poetry. Those lines scared the living daylights out of me at 12 years old and are as gripping today as when they were written.
This is a very different country to the Britain of Victorian times, but one thing hasn’t changed – we’re still obsessed by the spectre of murder in our beds.
Yet Knight ignored the original words, and wrote some tin-eared threat for Magwitch to say about eating a man’s heart.
Director Brady Hood was equally vague with Dickens’s precise scene-setting: he kept the icy mists stealing over the Kent marshes, but failed to include the scariest element – the gibbet, a sort of gallows for a corpse, where the bodies of hanged men were displayed in chains.
Why Knight decided to rip up Dickens’s perfect opening and replace it with his own bodged version is anybody’s guess.
Perhaps he has started to believe his own publicity, which is always dangerous. As far as the Beeb is concerned, he can do no wrong: he created Peaky Blinders, which has made countless millions for the corporation.
Say what you like, but Charley Dickens never had a worldwide smash with an ultra-violent gangster serial, did he?
The result is that Pip (Tom Sweet) is no longer a quick-thinking innocent with an over-active imagination, but a morose, insolent adolescent with a foul mouth.
Magwitch (Johnny Harris) is a decent man from the start, the victim of a terrible injustice – a twist Dickens conceals at first from his readers, letting us imagine the convict is a monster.
Estella (Chloe Lea), who should be haughty and cruelly mocking, behaved more like a cheeky servant girl.
Joe the blacksmith (Owen McDonnell) is no longer a simpleton, and his wife is now called Sara, presumably because it would be dreadfully sexist to keep calling her ‘Mrs Joe’.
She and Mr Pumblechook (Matt Berry) have a good giggle over Christmas dinner about the word ‘sex’, which seems unlikely in a Victorian home – but not as unlikely as the scenes of spanking we are promised in later episodes, as Mrs Joe turns dominatrix.
We glimpsed Miss Havisham, played by Olivia Colman with a malicious smile behind her bridal veil of cobwebs.
She might be the saving of this production, but according to the BBC’s publicity office, she has been reimagined as a drug-addled opium smoker. Even an actress as brilliant as O.C. won’t be able to counter that imbecilic innovation.
All the characters have been needlessly rewritten, and nothing about the way they live rings true either. It’s pointless and unbelievable for Joe to blaspheme in church, or for Pip to skulk and swear among the graves where his parents are buried.
We had to wait less than five minutes for the first F-word. At least the actors sounded comfortable when they were cursing.
Whenever the grammar acquired a 19th-century flavour, some of them sounded as though they were reading from an autocue.
All of it looked stagey, shot in the studio with computer graphics dropped into the background like painted scenery. The only blessing is that the whole thing is so underlit, it’s practically invisible.