Monday, July 16, 2007

'Great Expectations' - update

We watched Part II of the BBC series last weekend. I have to agree with a reviewer who said that the second part was weaker than the first, although to be fair, Dean preferred the second half over the earlier part.

I found it very rushed and a bit superficial in its attempt to include as much of the story as possible. As someone said, they couldn't bear to leave anything out, so they ended up putting in just a dash of everything, so we never got to experience anything in depth. I liked Herbert Pocket, but he was barely there before he was dashing off to Egypt. I'd have liked to see more of his little romance with Clara, to have seen more of his relationship with his father or the rest of his family. I don't know if we even see them together except in an early scene where Mr. Pocket is tutoring Pip and the other students. It seemed we should have known him better, so that we could appreciate his role as advisor to Pip - as it is, he scarcely seems more intimate with Pip than anyone else, so we can hardly see why Pip relies on him so much. The same thing goes for Wemmick - he's someone Pip trusts, but we see him so rarely, it's hard to understand why.

Also, when you don't build up all the elaborate surrounding structure of detail that Dickens provides, and just provide the bare girders of the plot, you start to realize how flimsy and far-fetched it really is. Jaggers is Miss Havisham's lawyer - oh, and he's also Magwich's lawyer...AND Molly's...AND Estella's...and Pip's. Guess there weren't too many lawyers in London in the 19th century, eh? And along with all these coincidences, we get a few more, but they're so abruptly introduced, with no explanation, it becomes incredible. So Magwich is Estella's father - OK, it's a coincidence, but you expect that in a novel. But wait...MOLLY, Jaggers's servant, is her mother! That revelation is the first time we even hear that Magwich and Molly even knew each other, and it's just matter-of-factly dropped into the story, then we're whirling away to something else. It'd be nice to know a little more; were they married? Were they a husband-and-wife criminal team? Was he cheating on her with the woman she ended up murdering? Just who are these people?

Now, I know that all these coincidences come straight out of Dickens himself, but he was able to take the time to make it less startling. With everything compressed the way it is in this second half of the TV series, it all becomes a little silly. And since they were dislocating the Long Arm of Coincidence so much, why did they leave out the detail that Magwich's enemy Compeyson was ALSO the man who jilted Miss Havisham and ruined her life? I know it could have been one more "Oh, brother!" moment, but at this point, who's counting? Leaving it out made Compeyson just a meaningless threat. Who was he? Why was he persecuting Magwich? Why does some nobody in a boat suddenly become powerful enough to derail Pip and Herbert's careful plan of escape? And then, poof! He's gone.

Speaking of Miss Havisham, I had an irreverent thought - she writes a cheque to Pip, to help pay to get Herbert established in business. A few moments later, she catches fire and is mortally burned. She doesn't die quite immediately though - it's a few days later. All I could think of was, "I hope Pip remembers to go to the bank quickly, and that cheque clears before she dies!"

I did like Bernard Hill's Magwich, but they made his death a bit unsatisfying. He's basically comatose as Pip tells the guard (but really him) that his daughter is a fine lady - leaving out the line that he loves her. It should have been Magwich's moment of redemption, when he finds peace and can die, but since he's unconscious, I don't know if he even heard Pip's words or not. You certainly can't tell by any reaction. I guess we just have to trust that he must have heard him.

Another loose end left only half tied up is what happens to Orlick. I can't remember what happened to him in the book. But he did murder Pip's sister, and all that seems to happen here is that he gets to beat the tar out of Pip, tell him that his sister's death was HIS fault, then go his way, feeling much manlier. Not that I care much; by his last scene, I would have been happy to see a magistrate condemn him to keep his hair combed.

The ending is also ambiguous. I know Dickens played with two endings, and wasn't quite sure how to finish the story. But I'm not quite sure just how this story was finished in this version. We have Estella back at Satis House, seemingly preparing to take over Miss Havisham's role. But Pip's words touch her, and she seems to be capable of loving him after all - a happy ending. Fair enough, but it's not to be. In the book, Estella was a widow by the end; if she now loves Pip, then they could marry and be together. But since the writers didn't want to commit to THAT happy an ending, they keep her husband alive, and arrange for her to be simply separated from him. So Estella finally finds love, only to be thwarted by her marital status, which seems rather a conventional way of resolving the Pip-Estella relationship. The story ends with her and Pip resolving to see each other as friends, even if they can't be lovers, and they are playing cards the way they did as children. I guess that's OK, but it still left me wondering just what life was going to hold for them. I guess that's a bittersweet ending, though it doesn't quite feel like an ending at all.

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