Hulu’s new take on the Charles Dickens classic, “Great Expectations,” is sure to impress. This new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic story features an all-star cast and stunning visuals that will take you back to Victorian England. The question is whether or not this update on a classic tale lives up to its billing. Come with me as we investigate this review further.
Great Expectations Hulu Review
The series, penned by Steven Knight and starring Olivia Colman as Miss Havisham, boldly reworks the classic novel to mixed results. The new six-part “Great Expectations” will not give you the best of times or the worst of times; it just belches out the issues of literary adaptation with the dyspeptic regularity of a coal-fired Victorian ironworks.
The gamble of basing new works on classic novels is geared mostly at audiences who are at least familiar with a specific work or who may even enjoy it just the way it is. If you have nothing to add to the original, there’s no reason to remake it, but radically changing the formula can turn off the fans. While the newcomer is unaware of the distinction. This confounds us. Maybe a contradiction.
Steven Knight’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s bildungsroman “Great Expectations” (1861) stars Tom Sweet (as the younger Pip) and Fionn Whitehead (as the older Pip), Olivia Colman (as his bitter, wild-eyed benefactress Miss Havisham), and Chloe Lea/Shalom Brune-Franklin (as the icy-hearted Estella).
The Wall Street Journal published on their Twitter account a post in which they wrote the following:
Review: Featuring Olivia Colman as Miss Havisham, Hulu’s “Great Expectations” gleefully takes great liberties in adapting the classic novel, albeit to sometimes dubious effect https://t.co/qqFxNCcL8B
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) March 24, 2023
Mr. Knight’s approach (“Dirty Beautiful Things,” “Eastern Promises”) is so present-focused that “presentism” hardly does it justice. Pip’s sister, Sara Gargery (Hayley Squires), and her blacksmith husband, Joe (Owen McDonnell), raised Pip from infancy. When Pip isn’t around, they engage in sadomasochistic foreplay with an object resembling a fireplace poker. (So that you know, Joe is on the receiving end.)
When one of Miss Havisham’s clients is about to be executed, Jaggers (Ashley Thomas) intervenes by threatening to reveal the judge’s letters to another “sodomite.” At one point, Havisham reveals that her family’s wealth was amassed through the sale of “opium, indigo, and slaves,” with Havisham herself admitting that she uses the narcotic as a means of getting through the day after being left at the altar and never having taken off her wedding dress or her veil of grief.
The idea that a novel, particularly one as famous as “Great Expectations,” is some sacred text is preposterous, and Mr. Knight departs from the original in many ways, the least of which is the absence of a decaying, cobwebbed marriage cake in Miss Havisham’s frozen drawing room. Yet, it becomes exploitative when the alterations weaken the significance of the novel.
Pip is introduced to the world with equal parts awe and fear in the novel, which he reads for the first time on Christmas Eve after a terrifying meeting with the prison-ship fugitive Magwitch (Johnny Harris) on the marsh. Magwitch wants food, a file for his shackles, and silence from the youngster.
This “Great Expectations” will feature Magwitch more prominently than any other adaptation, including David Lean’s 1946 classic. It’s up to Dickens fans to decide, but Mr. Knight introduces an early red herring when discussing the source of Pip’s future money and what he should have for “Expectations.”
Instead of working in his brother-in-smithy law’s like Pip did, Mr. Sweet, who is around the same age, have his sights set on London and life as a “gentleman.” Mr. Knight’s interpretation of the book and its title centers on what it means, what Pip thinks it means, and whether or not it finally conforms to what he wants and plans for.
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Ms. Colman has moments, dialogue-free when she presents the entirety of Havisham’s misery and disappointment with a deftly delivered look; Mr. Thomas gives a fierce portrayal of a wholly original Jaggers; Rudi Dharmalingam as Wemmick, the assistant to Jaggers, is delightful; and the character of Pip has become something other than an innocent in both the young and old versions of the character.
Mr. Knight has lost much of the subtle psychology, especially in regards to Havisham, one of literature’s great monsters, who has raised the adopted Estella to be immune to love and to break men’s hearts due to the way he has expanded the story and given far more room to characters who were perfectly Dickensian in their economy.
Dickens had a knack for revealing only as much about a character as was necessary to drive home his point. Mr. Knight continues to provide details, but they are increasingly irrelevant.
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