Great Expectations & Armando’s Tale of Charles Dickens
There are many things to applaud concerning the BBC’s latest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, directed by Brian Kirk. The key factor is the atmosphere, which is unexpected and deliciously grim and stylish. The Scene where Magwitch wades through the cold, desaturated marshes is chilling, and Ray Winstone is- initially at least- genuinely terrifying in the role.
Indeed, the performances are spectacular all round, Gillian Anderson expertly captures the brittle fragility of Miss Havisham and Harry Lloyd charms as an absurdly nice Herbert Pocket. Cleverly, the star of the show is an unknown, the impossibly beautiful Douglas Booth, so that we can more easily believe in his rise from nobody to somebody over the course of the narrative. A clever, moody, beautifully shot adaptation that tells a simple, classic story with enough edge and darkness to keep things fresh.
Even more exciting than this three part miniseries is the hour long documentary on Charles Dickens himself, written and presented by Armando Iannucci. This should come as no particular surprise to fans of Iannucci, the genius behind most of the UKs best comedy series’s, considering he’s already made a similar film about John Milton and his epic poem Paradise Lost.
In Armando’s Tale of Charles Dickens, Iannucci dismisses the comfortable perception that Dickens is high brow and hyperbolic, insisting that his work is not only intelligent, dark and cutting edge, but also as funny now as it ever was. He’s right too, Dickens exposed the corruption and ineptitude in the establishment with biting satire that still rings true today. We are also treated to detailed dissections of Dickens’ writing, which appears simple and straightforward up until the point it suddenly blossoms into something profound, like someone folding paper and then unexpectedly producing a swan. There are moments of real poignancy, not least when Iannucci discusses Dickens’ night walking, and in particular his trip to the mental institution.
“Are not the sane and the insane equal at night” writes Dickens “as the sane lie a dreaming?” This quotation best sums up Charles Dickens as a writer, it is a deeply philosophical and thought provoking concept wrapped up in such a simple analogy. On the surface it sounds kind of ridiculous. And then you think about it.