tue 23/07/2019

Great Expectations, BBC One / True Stories: Sarah Palin - You Betcha!, More4 | reviews, news & interviews

Great Expectations, BBC One / True Stories: Sarah Palin - You Betcha!, More4

Great Expectations, BBC One / True Stories: Sarah Palin - You Betcha!, More4

Do we need another version of Dickens' most adaptable novel or another hatchet job of Alaska's infamous governor?

Advanced engineering: Gillian Anderson and Oscar Kennedy in 'Great Expectations'

Without wanting to sound humbuggy, do we really need another Great Expectations? Let alone two. There’s yet another movie coming next year but breasting the tape first is a new three-parter from the BBC. Cinema last visited the story of Pip Pirrip in 1998 when Alfonso Cuarón transplanted the novel to present-day New York. On television Tony Marchant had a go a year later. Theatre was there even more recently with Declan Donnellan's staging for the RSC in 2005 and Watford Palace's Asian version earlier this year. And looming over them all there’s always David Lean’s still definitive adaptation of what a majority of Dickensians regard as the most accomplished novel of all.

But just because Dickens is about to turn 200, is there any excuse to tell once more of a blacksmith boy's elevation to the fashionable heights? Well, possibly there is. With social mobility as static as at any time since the Second World War, Great Expectations can at least claim to have regained some of its original shock value. These days few clamber up the ladder from the bottom of the heap without an artificial hoik from the National Lottery. Two centuries on from Dickens’ birth, the sheer oddity of a boy "raised up" by anonymous bequest is the stuff of reality TV.

In the hands of writer Sarah Phelps and director Brian Kirk, the story is thus allowed to take on the misty properties of one of Dickens’s Christmas ghost stories. In last night’s first episode, Ray Winstone’s chained convict Magwitch (pictured above) emerged from the Kentish marshes like a foul creature from the primordial bog and Gillian Anderson played Miss Havisham as a crooning  phantom bleached of all colour and intonation, like Wilkie Collins’ deranged woman in white.

The casting of Anderson is a bold attempt to shake the dust out of the story (Helena Bonham Carter in next year’s film will no doubt do something similar). Miss Havisham is usually seen as a wizened crone wreathed in wrinkles and cobwebs. By losing at least 20 years, the horror of her self-imprisonment becomes all the more visceral. Her eyes may be rimmed pink, the skin of her hand scratched and bothered, but her beauty has by no means wasted away, even after the seven years’ leap made in this first episode.

As for the rest of the cast, Oscar Kennedy made for a less bland presence than the young Pip can often seem, whether angrily flooring the young gentleman Herbert Pocket (pictured left) or dejectedly consigned by Miss Havisham to years of drudgery as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Shaun Dooley as the benign Joe Gargery, Claire Rushbrook as his shrill sister Mrs Joe and Mark Addy as the bombastic  Pumblechook all laid stress on psychological plausibility rather than Dickensian caricature. It makes for a quieter, less demonstrative account of the story, but one in which the author’s original intention feels freshly exhumed.

What might Dickens have made of the former governor of Alaska? In Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, a film for More4's True Stories strand, she found herself portrayed from afar by another specialist in grotesques and gargoyles. Nick Broomfield travelled to Wasilla, the tight-knit snow-bound wellspring of Alaska’s most infamous export, in pursuit of an interview. Initially it all looked promising. The filmmaker managed to pin down Palin’s affable father and indeed the title refers to the cheery reply Broomfield extracted from Palin when he flew to a book signing (such as one pictured below) in Texas and, filming surreptitiously, requested the interview in person.

As in other Broomfield chases, it was initially enough to enjoy the thrill of the pursuit. But it became apparent that, despite deploying all his signature faux-naif, poker-faced trickery and charm, no interview would be happening. Armed with a megaphone, Broomfield even popped her a question from the back of a rally. As he will have expected, he was booed and thrown out. Other rabbits would need to be yanked from the hat. In a town where the Palins divisively regard anyone who is not their friend as their foe, Broomfield’s only option was to talk to those of the latter persuasion. And so they queued - former supporters and colleagues who have been banned, cast out, cold-shouldered and vilified - to vilify right back.

What emerged was a portrait of a vengeful narrow-minded ignorant evangelical incompetent bigot whose one pre-eminent skill is in street fighting. It’s not as if these broad brushstrokes aren't already known: Palin has even dealt a mortal blow to her own standing with the risible reality travelogue series Sarah Palin’s Alaska. But the fresh filigree detail supplied here was compellingly awful. Let us give praise and thanks that the film is not more urgently needed now that Palin is no longer elbowing and scratching her way to the White House. But shame on Senator McCain for dragging this barely educated and ill-mannered hellcat onto the world stage. She's like Pip abruptly hauled up the social scale, only a hundred times less prepared for the journey.

Comments

"....But shame on Senator McCain for dragging this barely educated and ill-mannered hellcat onto the world stage. She's like Pip abruptly hauled up the social scale, only a hundred times less prepared for the journey." Actually, it would seem that her benefactor/ mentor/ handler is none other than Henry Kissinger. Dickensian indeed....

I watched this adaptation of Great Expectations with expectation.I was not disappointed,as I thought I might be. The acting,production and editing were superb.Even Douglas Booth as a very pretty Pip did not put me off,neither did Gillian Anderson's younger Miss Havisham.The scene where she sets herself alight,standing in front of the mantelpiece in her mansion was immaculately done,without any kind of disturbing overtones at all. Ray Winstone's Magwitch was masterly,especially in his deathbed scene.An Oscar-winning performance. More from the same producer,please!this was class TV.

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