A zeitgeisty role like Agent Dana Scully may cast a long shadow, but Gillian Anderson seems determined not to have the first line of her obituary read “that redheaded gal off ‘The X-Files.'” Lurching in recent years between respectable British TV costume dramas and mirthless crime fare (“Straightheads” won’t be one to tell the grandkids about), Anderson is now in talks to take the most iconic role in a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “Great Expectations” as Miss Haversham, alongside eternal Cockney bruiser Ray Winstone as the novel’s duplicitous Magwitch. Like everything else nowadays, though, don’t expect this to be your mother’s rainy Sunday afternoon “Great Expectations”. Oh no, The Daily Mail reports that this three-part miniseries threatens to be “sexually charged”.
Seems like the BBC is hoping to have their cake and eat it too with this adaptation: muscling in on both the “Downton Abbey” love-in from their main competitors, ITV, and benefiting from the ‘revisionist classics’ trend in cinemas that saw Cary Fukunaga spice up “Jane Eyre” and reclaim its Gothic imagination, whilst Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” was transplanted from the 1947 to the 1960s for its more readily detectable “youth culture.” So don’t be surprised if the traditional tale you’re familiar with from having it rammed down your throat during English Lit classes (broadly summarized: a poverty-stricken waif called Pip is taken in by an old kook and falls madly in love with her adopted daughter, only to realize his benefactor is a criminal who robbed him as a child) is messed with royally.
Those expecting a prosaic reheat of the definitive David Lean version, then, might be pleasantly surprised. The role of Miss Havisham – who, outside of Lady Macbeth, has become one of the most coveted roles in traditional costume dramas for women – should be catnip to Anderson. True, Martita Hunt’s performance in the 1946 original as the love-starved jilted madwoman who’s never out of her bridal dress may still be genuinely unsettling, but that hasn’t stopped about fifty billion actresses after her from having a crack at the role to varying degrees of success. For every Charlotte Rampling making a decent fist of it, there’s always Anne Bancroft’s misjudged “Nora Dinsmoor” in Alfonso Cuarón’s mildly embarrassing 1998 “contemporary” version of the novel which had Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow flouncing about New York for no specific reason.
Having this property in the hands of the BBC, though, is a safe bet. Their fresh adaptations of “Little Dorrit” and “Bleak House” might not be the stuff of ecstatic dynamism but they’re generally considered the high watermark of doing these things the right way, and Anderson’s recent track record in performing in dramas for the corporation is decent, particularly as the borderline insane brothel madam Mrs. Castaway in the BAFTA-bothering “The Crimson Petal and the White” which had lashings of nudity to boot. As long as writer Sarah Phelps doesn’t have Winstone don a Dick Dastardly hat, grow a pencil mustache and bellow “JONESY!” every thirty seconds, it’s hard to see how this one can go drastically wrong.
“Great Expectations” begins filming in July and will air in the UK over Christmas. Douglas Booth, a relative newcomer known to British audiences for his role in TV biopic “Christopher and His Kind”, takes the lead role of Pip.