Tuesday, 3 January 2012
The new BBC "Great Expectations"
The David Lean film of Dickens' "Great Expectations" is a work of genius. I seem to remember another attempt to film it (director, David Mann?) which was pretty boring. The recent BBC version was very good, in my opinion, but only at a certain level, and in a limited way. It was certainly not as good as the Lean film nor, as we might expect, as good as the book! Some things were missing and some unnecessary things had been added. I have to agree with Peter Hitchens in this, though I do think he has been a bit too negative. On the whole, Hitchens makes some important points about how unable we now are to deal with the moral atmosphere of the past. I don't think this is true of everyone, of course; there are still some who have a sufficient appreciation of history and a readiness to listen to and learn from our past. However, I have noticed - with some alarm - that many people a bit younger than me (say 20 years younger at least) have a poor understanding of history and are frighteningly ignorant of how important it is to know about the past without overlaying it with the superficial, and sometimes utterly crass, opinions of our contemporary world. I have been a bit dismayed, sometimes, at the cinematic treatment of Jane Austen's works. I believe the appropriate phrase (horrible though it is) is "sexing-up". Do writers and film makers think so badly of their audience that they have to make explicit what, in the books, is handled with judicious and subtle phrases allowing us to respect the privacy even of fictional characters? This "lack of respect" for author and audience alike has marred many a modern take on classic fiction. I did like the new BBC "Expectations" because of the sets, some of the acting and the general "production values". I did not like it because of the older Pip character (which reminded me of Dorian Gray and was almost completely wrong), the poor characterization of Joe Gargery, and the unbelievable transformation of Pocket. It has made me want to watch the Lean version again. Miss Haversham was well-acted, but it was just not good enough and, despite the sets, there was a lack of atmosphere in the house (compare this to Lean's film which is full of it). A good director and writer (of screenplay) can do wonders with a classic book, even leaving out some of the content (see John Schlesinger's "Far from the Madding Crowd"), but there needs to be a real respect for the environment and subtleties of the author. With some notable exceptions (the last film of "Sense and Sensibility") too many of our contemporary writers, directors and producers are seriously lacking in this.