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An orphan boy meets an escaped convict, a crazed rich woman, a bewitching girl, and grows up to have great expectations of wealth from a mysterious patron, in “Great Expectations,” Charles Dickens’ remarkable tale of rags to riches to self-knowledge.
There isn't an adaptation around that can compete with David Lean's definitive version of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, but this BBC-PBS coproduction has its pleasures. Though it gets off to a grim start with a violent skirmish on the moors, the proceedings become less off-putting once naive young Pip (Toast's Oscar Kennedy) grows into a man of some sophistication (now played by the dashing Douglas Booth). His adventures begin when the openhearted orphan helps out escaped convict Magwitch (Oliver Twist's Ray Winstone in fiery form), little realizing the machinations he has set into motion. Afterward, his sister, who resents the burden of his presence, sends him to live with the reclusive Miss Havisham (Bleak House's Gillian Anderson), a ghostly figure clinging to memories of thwarted romance. Miss Havisham means for Pip to entertain her haughty ward, Estella (Izzy Meikle-Small), with whom Pip falls in love, but the grown Estella (Vanessa Kirby) finds him unworthy and his guardian returns him to the forges of his youth. Fortunately, a mysterious benefactor steps in to save the day (David Suchet's solicitor makes the arrangements), allowing Pip to reconnect with Estella and to befriend Herbert Pocket (Harry Lloyd, an actual Dickens descendant), but dark shadows lurk around every London corner. If Anderson, who opts for a too-high vocal register, looks young for the part and if the final sequence deviates from Dickens's original text, director Brian Kirk (Game of Thrones) still provides a moving conclusion to a two-part series that becomes more involving as it unfolds. --Kathleen C. Fennessy