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Great Expectations (2012) - A Star-Studded Dickens Drama



Last year, the works of Dickens celebrated a milestone, and with that came a handful of new adaptations. Not the least of which was not one but two re-makes of Great Expectations. Typical Dickens, the story is dark and not without its finer points – the most important being, with wealth comes great responsibility. 

Young Pip is an orphan who is ill-treated by his coldhearted sister (Sally Hawkins) who’d as soon beat him than look at him. His only adversary and friend is Jo (Jason Flemyng), his sister’s husband. Expected to step into Jo’s shoes as the local blacksmith once he comes of age, it is on a cold Christmas day that changes the course of Pip’s life forever. Following an encounter with an escaped prisoner (Ralph Fiennes), Pip takes food to the prisoner, showing him kindness where no one else does, only to later watch as the prison guards haul the man back to jail. Shortly thereafter, he is summoned to the large, dilapidated manor house not far from the marshes where Pip lives.

Inside, the lady of the house is Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), a woman who is garbed in a tattered wedding gown and hides behind a curious shadowed past – especially her request of Pip’s presence to play with her young ward, Estella. It takes little for Pip to become smitten with the young beauty – the girl enchants him whether she is playing cards with him or being cruelly mean until he is unceremoniously dismissed from weekly meetings with Estella. In the following years, Pip (Jeremy Irvine) settles into his role as Jo’s apprentice while longing to become a gentleman. His wish is met when he learns he is the beneficiary of a large fortune – one that stipulates he never question who has gifted him this and with barely a backward glance, the naive country boy is whisked to London where his life again becomes entangled with the lovely, educated Estella (Holliday Grainger) newly returned from abroad.

No matter how many adaptations are made of Dickens classic literature, I still see them. This particular title didn’t need a re-make so much as his other, lesser-known books do, however it was the script shopped around and it was the script that was brought to cinematic greatness. As a Victorian story, this isn’t a bad one. It has many elements that make it both a curiosity and a study in the ways of humanity. In terms of an epic mystery that builds in metaphor or uses its characters to accomplish this, layer upon layer, this isn’t Dickens best – or it doesn’t transition unto the screen as his best.  

Making comparisons is bound to happen between this and Masterpiece’s adaptation of 2011 no matter how hard we try to wipe its memory from our mind for two hours. And to some extent the 2011 film benefits from better direction, pacing and in important roles, acting. Where this clocks in at a mere 123 minutes, the older version gets a full three hours and that extra hour shows. Here, there is excellent set-up, making Pip’s childhood days a great beginning for what is to come – a character premonition any avid period drama fan will likely expertly identify, no matter the altered approaches or new faces the story may coerce out of very familiar material. Adapted for the screen by  David Nicholls and directed by Mike Newell, this takes a lighter approach, a bit more subtle satire than serious-minded, authentic story-telling.  


Coupling veteran talent with a pair of up-and-comers usually compliments all of the performers – or in some productions, it overshadows those less experienced. Here Carter plays a more “comedic” version of the passive-aggressive Miss Havisham. With her eye glass and antics, she’s less pathetic. Save for perhaps a scene she begs for forgiveness or when Pip sees her for the first time after time away, her screen time pales in comparison to the impression Gillian Anderson leaves us with in this same role. I did quite like Irvine. He was good-looking and played his transformation from country boy to conceited city boy with ease, and hardly a hint of disbelief. Similarly he and Holliday were well matched – chemistry subtle but always present in their few scenes together (which is limited in comparison). Particularly the final scene was far too short but full of compelling emotions. Unlike the book, the scripts take a softer view. (Leading us to "believe" in the promise of what we see.) It leaves us grasping for hope and where this one is concerned, pleased that Pip is more than the selfish young man we assumed him to be. Captured in sixty seconds is a wiser, far better hero and it’s nothing short of wonderful.

Inspired by modern fashion, many of the costumes have an “edge” to them, meaning there is hardly a roomful of pretty colors and patterns and more “cold” designs, matching the mood and personalities of these characters. Estella is often clothed in ensembles that resemble the wide sweeping lines of duster jackets and her ballroom gown is as dark as the fierce hairstyle she is wearing. What the production does well is the visits into the past. It was interesting to see how a writer imagined Miss Havisham’s wedding day or why she was heart-broken – also seeing Estella and her first meeting was precious, displaying a woman who was almost undone by an angelic little girl. A child who, ironically, could have saved the woman and  instead she made Estella into a cold, unfeeling woman, fashioning her into everything Miss Havisham wished she had been in order to save herself – living through Estella – from the heartbreak of love. What this version does, it does well including the deception of the fragile nature of humans – how easily we are hurt and the danger of what our life will be if we don’t forgive. 
(Parental review, the film rates PG13 for one murder in which the victim is strangled – the person attempts to fight back by stabbing the attacker with scissors [there is some blood]; another person tries to straggle another man. There is a death in a body of water. One minor implication suggests a woman was abused, and a child mistreated – there are two or three scenes of drunkenness at a men’s club.)
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  1. While the miniseries has more room to breathe, I think this is the better condensed version with superior secondary actors -- this Pip isn't there simply to be eye candy, and Estella is far more beautiful than the plain girl in the miniseries. But I do agree, my favorite Miss Havisham is still Gillian's. I love them both for different reasons but this is a far better, quicker adaptation.

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    1. In all honesty, I *really* wanted to watch the miniseries again to compare the two closely rather than merely relying on my memory of it. Alas, it hasn't happened yet (hoping over this long weekend!).

      Gillian Anderson will be the BEST thing in the BBC series methinks while I may differ on who best plays Pip (leaning more towards Jeremy probably). I think I prefer the interactions between Pip and Estella in the BBC version also while in this one, I like the ending a bit better even if it does just... end.

      Agree: I love both versions for different reasons as well. This one is nice if one doesn't want to invest the time (much the same as with the 2005 version of P&P vs. the 6 hours) but still be given a beautiful story and the 3 hour version offers more depth to the story with the benefit of that extra hour.

      Either way, I enjoyed both VERY much and certainly look forward to re-watching them in the future.

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    2. I haven't watched the miniseries in awhile either, but I watched it four times when it first came out, so I remember it very well!

      This is the best Pip, by far -- no one else really captures him as well, or gets both sides of his personality (the cranky side, and the compassionate side). I LOVED some of the choices they made in this one -- like the dancing scene, and their overall cast; this go-around, the villain she married was good-looking enough to believe he could get away with everything he got away with -- the other one wasn't charismatic enough, in my opinion. I also loved that they included the drawbridge! And the girl Joe Gargery winds up with! She's left out sometimes.

      (Forgive me for not using their names -- I'm coming off a lot of work hours and barely functioning. This morning I couldn't even remember the name of a character I've read about a million times. It's... bad.)

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    3. ...yes, I'd agree; after four bunched together viewings, you would have a good grasp on it. :) That is awesome - and certainly it's worth that because... well, it's Dickens! Needless to say I am long overdue for watching the miniseries again. ;)

      For me, the big thing is, I liked that extra hour in the former version. I don't think this shorter adaptation suffered badly with its limited time(it's far from being rubbish!) but... there were some interesting facts allowed for in that extra time that were omitted here - and really, vice versa (even with a shorter running time, this one dealt with some missing facts, too). Seeing Joe and Pip's would-be wife were adorable together and it was delightful to see him happy again. I think there was a dance in the 2011 version also, no? Or maybe we are thinking of two different scenes.

      Either way, bottom line: both have assets and both are pleasurable to watch for different reasons. Like I said, this one has a better ending (liked seeing in those 30 seconds him as a mature, successful, responsible man who learned from his youth) and the other... well, there are things in that I prefer. Mom thought she liked this one best, so we'll all have to decide for sure once we re-watch the "other one."

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    4. I appreciate anything that can take all the elements of a long, padded book and condense it into a two hour format, so for me the screenplay was genius (it actually uses a lot of dialogue right out of the book, and smaller details like Miss Havisham only wearing one shoe!). But yeah, there's good and bad things about both versions. As I feel with many different adaptations, if I could merge them together, I'd have the perfect adaptation (Biddy / Pip / Estella / Magwitch from this one, Miss Havisham from the other, and maybe the longer format).

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    5. As do I. It's a prime example of why the 2005 P&P has quickly become one of my most well-loved costume drams. The epic miniseries are good (example, Little Dorrit) but I don't always want to take the time to watch them - with exception to Bleak House which I am fond of and always willing to watch.

      How neat this version features portions of book-exact-dialogue - that's a testament to the script writer!

      You are onto something there! The more I consider it, I'll admit Jeremy was likely the best Pip. If only Gillian Anderson had played Miss Havisham, this one would have been golden. :)

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  2. This needs to come out on DVD!

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    1. Tell me about it, Ruth. Here's to hoping it will show up on Amazon in the not-too-distant future. For sure, I'll be anxious to get your take! :)

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  3. I really want to watch this movie!

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    1. Yay! Hope you enjoy once it makes it across the pond, Ella. :) Did you like the earlier version from ITV last year?

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  4. Me, too! Me, too! I recently watched the 2011 version and not having really been up on Great Expectations, other than the general idea of an orphan boy named Pip...that was really my first look at the story. It was interesting, yet creepy. I'm curious to watch this one now, too! Thanks for keeping my to-watch list always growing, Rissi! :)

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    1. Oh, yay! I didn't know you'd seen the 2011/ITV version, Kellie - that's awesome. This is probably the fourth version of this story I've seen. The oldie (80's) isn't nearly as compelling because it lacks the benefit of new filmmaking (plus familiar faces!) and pretty settings; the next is from the 90's (I think!) and is decent but again pales in comparison to either one of these.

      Dickens is kind of... creepy. What I always appreciate about him is how his film adaptations (save for one story!) all end happily. No matter what we trudge through, we are given an ending that leaves us with a smile. That is worth everything. :)

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  5. Omg, I didn't realize this came out already!!!! :)

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    1. It's not available world wide, Tory. Right now, it's in the U.K. and probably you could find it on-line somewhere... though I cannot say where. Wishing you happy watching - it's a pretty cinematic gem. :)

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  6. I really, really wish I could watch this! Great Expectations is one of the most well-done novels I've ever read.

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    1. Oh, yay! If you like the book, Hannah then you should really enjoy this one. Or presumably you will. :)

      Did you ever see the 2011 BBC miniseries?

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  7. I need to get ahold of this. GE has always been my favorite Dickens story, except for Christmas Carol. I've seen two editions, I think...I THINK. And I think I reviewed them both (if I did see two) or maybe just the second one. Either way, I reviewed one a while back. :) If I looked it up I could see how many I've seen...nope. Too lazy. Watching DWTS Finale inbetween writing this. ;)

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    1. *goes to check Austenitis*

      Huh, didn't see a film adaptation of Great Expectations reviewed over there but either way... will be excited to get your take on this one, Charity. :) My VERY favorite Dickens (film) is Bleak House. It's a masterpiece.

      It's up in the air which version of GE I prefer; it's for sure between this or the 2011 miniseries. :)

      Happy DWTS watching. Gotta' love that show - craziness and all!

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    2. *goes to check Austenitis from the administrative end*

      Ah-ha! Found one. Buried back aways...I should promote this post. Here's a link (1999 version of movie): http://austenitis.blogspot.com/2012/08/movie-great-expectations.html

      It's the Estella that I remember best from that. That red dress...ooolala!

      Bleak House was amazing! I watched it last summer, actually. :) Reviewed that too... *pokes through archives again* Ah, here it is: http://austenitis.blogspot.com/2012/08/movie-bleak-house.html

      That was back before I'd discovered your blog! Long time ago, or so it feels. Have you seen "Little Dorrit"? That one's good too. :)

      And yes, I enjoyed DWTS! I've got an hour or so left to anticipate for tonight, but have tweeted (as you saw) about the part I saw. Still so unhappy re A&M. Oh well. So it goes.

      Yay! Love our chats, Rissi. :)

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    3. Yes! Love that you shared - thanks, Charity. :)

      I saw that version of Great Expectations about four years ago when a friend from church dropped it by (she knew what a British nut I was ;D) for me to watch before she returned the rental. The best thing about the 90's version was Ioan and Justine who are favorites from other respective costume dramas - seeing a familiar face in all of these is kind of a "game" for my family. Someone will seueal and go, "oh! That's what's-his-name!?" and then we try and remember. ;)

      Bleak House *is* amazing. 'Nuff said.

      Oh, yes! I've seen two versions of Little Dorrit - much prefer the newer one but gosh, it's looong! Which is the reason I rarely watch it.

      Me, too. Really sad that Aly and Mark were placed fourth - they were robbed. ;) However what's done is done and in the end, that's how the votes (sadly) stacked up. Either way, a worthy couple won! Savor that last hour.

      As do I. :)

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    4. I know, it's so much fun to spot recognizable actors in new movies! I generally sit there with my Surface near so that if I can't place the actor, I can look them up right away before I forget. :)

      I've only seen the 2008 version of Little Dorrit, and yes, it IS long! But an enjoyable movie. It's been a year and a half or so since I saw it, and that was only once, but I enjoyed it! :)

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    5. That it is, Charity - all will be quiet in our living room and then someone will suddenly shout, "there's what's-his-name!" It's always a pleasure to see a favorite British star in the various period films since they are a rarity (in the U.S) to the likes of the famous stars of America's cinema.

      I'm thinking that I've only watched Little Dorrit (2008) once also. I am sure I've seen the 80's version multiple times - maybe twice though it pales in comparison. What a sweet ending the newer one has! Plus it's fun to see the "new" Mr. Darcy in the movie. ;)

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    6. It is so delightful, Rissi, to see actors again! I have a whole bunch of doubles saved up...I should get down to it and write those reviews sometime. :)

      Ah yes, I much preferred Macfadyen in LD over the 05 P&P! I much prefer the 95 version (and Darcy) as you no doubt know. Have you read my P&P comparisons? There's a picture link somewhere on my right sidebar. ANYWAY, coincidentally, I think the 95 P&P is THE movie I've seen most...Prince Caspian is second. :) It's rather strange that a five hour movie is my most seen...true, though!

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    7. Especially when they are actors who make our favorites list! ;)

      See... the more I watch the 2005 version of P&P, the more I ADORE it! Part of that is because of the condensed time (sometimes I don't want to invest the five hours it'd take to watch the A&E version) - which writers dealt with and handled brilliantly, and the other half is the change in era. It makes for a nice change of pace and puts its own unique spin on a movie that wasn't lacking a good version.

      LOVE 'Caspian.' Not sure I've seen it more than twice - and now oddly enough, I could watch it again. :)

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  8. Hmm.... I'll have to find a way to check this out. Thanks for the in-depth review of it!

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    1. Awesome - thank you for reading, Rachel. When you see it, drop by with your thoughts. :)

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  9. I loved reading 'Great Expectations' and I'm looking forward to the new version on film, I didn't love the latest Masterpiece adaptation. Hope it comes out soon. : )

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    1. Ah, I am sorry you didn't love the ITV series. I found it really good (in comparison to the oldies) but am always judging them only by their cinematic qualities since I never read classic lit. That's why I am always so quick (and repetitive) to say I haven't read the books because I do want readers to understand that I am not comparing them - unless it's an "overview" of something (like the ending of Great Expectations) that I read a spoiler on or have been told what happens by someone I trust who has read the book.

      I hope you are able to see this one soon also, Cathy - I'd enjoy getting your opinion when you do. :)

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    2. Thanks Rissi. It's true we can have a different outlook on a movie if we've read the book first. The main reason I didn't love that particular version was because they left out my favorite character from the book! : ) A girl named Biddy, who was such a beautiful person. You should read the book, it's so good! : )

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    3. It is tough if a favored character is left out. With this version you are in luck, Cathy! She doesn't get a lot of screen time but Biddy does leave an impressions. Her scenes are sweet regardless of time and I liked her character very well.

      Don't disagree with the logic that books offer film adaptations new perspectives - I've begun to experience that on a more regular basis these past few years. Basically it's been lovely!

      Perhaps someday I will read the book (I'll admit I get intimidated when picking up classic lit because the language is vastly different than that of contemporary historicals). Until then, I settle for these beautiful film adaptations. :) Thanks for sharing, Cathy!

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    4. So glad they added a little of Biddy! I'm looking forward to it even more now!

      I totally understand the intimidation of reading classic lit. I still read them with a dictionary. We just don't use the same English vocab anymore. : )

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    5. She was lovely - I guess I didn't note at the time that Biddy was missing from the prior ITV version. Although I do think she plays a small role in an older adaptation also.

      Oooh! I like your idea of keeping a dictionary handy when reading classic lit. What a grand idea! I started reading Count of Monte Cristo about a year ago for an article I was writing and couldn't get through it (so instead I looked up things on-line and read through a "kids" version ;D) and I've been trudging through Northanger Abbey for eons. I am proud of myself for making it through S&S by Austen; it is my one "claim to fame" reading that genre. :)

      True, we don't use the same vocabulary. To some extent, it is sad - nowadays we "text speak." :)

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  10. I've read the book several times and I agree with you that this story is one of the harder ones to transition to film. I don't even know why that would be, but my favorite version remains the book, small surprise.

    Still, if I had to choose between these two latest film adaptations, I would pick the one with Helena and Jeremy and the radiant Holliday Grainger as Estella. I loved her SO much better than the one in the miniseries. Plus, Olly Alexander was the CUTEST Herbert Pocket! Oh my gosh, so adorable! The adaptation did a good job of cutting the book down to a manageable length.

    It's like how I adore Bleak House and Little Dorrit, but have only seen each of them once. They're far too long. This shorter GE adaptation is one I will not only buy, but rewatch.

    Now, that length rule does not apply to the 2006 Jane Eyre with Toby Stephens. I'll rewatch that until my dying day! ;)

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    1. It's nice to hear from someone who has extensive knowledge of the book, Carissa!

      Cutting down one of Dickens epic tomes is no small task - and I suspect that most of the shorter versions have done a decent if not totally accurate job of it. This version was really entertaining. It seemed darker to me than the ITV version but then having only watched the 2011 adaptation once, perhaps I am forgetting all of its traits. Ah, yes! Herbert Pocket - he *is* cute! Really the character is fantastic - who could not like him!? He always wears a smile and is an excellent influence on Pip. Dickens couldn't have imagined a better friend for our hero.

      I've seen Bleak House more than once (LOVE that one) but not the newer Little Dorrit (have the older one) - that miniseries is darn long! Golly, it's overwhelming and drags in some places. Although it is very well made and acted. That being said, a shorter version does inspire multiple viewings - and I think both new Great Expectations will be ones I'll enjoy re-watching. They each have strengths.

      The 2006 version of Jane Eyre is the one "modern" re-make of that novel I've yet to see - still plan to watch it in the near future. :)

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  11. I've been looking forward to seeing this adaptation of Great Expectations! I trudged through the book last summer, and watched the 2011 adaptation, which I thought had room for improvement. But then, I thought the book could use improvement, too. I hope I get a chance to see this one soon!

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    1. Oh, neat! You'll enjoy watching then this if you just read the book - there are notable differences in this newer version vs. ITV's so here's wishing you'll find that "improvement" in this adaptation, Lizzie. :)

      Would love to get your impressions after you see it!

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  12. I haven't seen the 2011 version ,either , but I heard it was good. Di8d you like the 2011 or 2012 version of GE better?

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    1. Oooh, you'll have to watch that one then, Ella - it should be available through Netflix and the like.

      My first thought upon finishing this adaptation (2012) was that I preferred the 2011 over it. After contemplation, I may be leaning more towards this one. Having said that, my hope is to re-watch the older one this weekend and decide. Initially this one seemed darker but I think overall, the actor who plays Pip is much better whereas the ITV miniseries boasts a BRILLIANT Miss Havisham in Gillian Anderson. Once all is said and done, each have their strengths.

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  13. I hadn't even heard about this. lol It certainly looks interesting though. Great review!

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    1. It is that, Rosie but then... that's Dickens for you. The earlier version (from ITV) is worth seeing if you're interested in watching an adaptation.

      Thanks for reading it! :)

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  14. I had to read that book for college English...most kids thought it was a punishment....but Charles Dickens is one of my favorite writers so I LOVED IT!

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    1. That's neat, Micah - I've never attempted his books. If they are half as epic as the movies, I'd probably be more confused than I know what to do with considering I likely lean more towards being a visual person. :)

      Did you ever see the 2011 ITV version of this - or any adaptation?

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  15. I REALLY want to watch this!!!!! But I can't get it where I live, how did you watch it? I love the book, one of my favorites!

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    1. It was very good, Evelyn - did you watch either the 1999 adaptation or the more recent 2011 version? Both are good though of those two, the latter is way better. I am still debating between this one (2012) and the ITV 2011 adaptation.

      Thanks for stopping by - and for the comment! It's my favorite part of blogging. Visit anytime. :)

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    2. I actually have not watched either of them, but I will certainly look into watching at least the 2011 version. I would really like to watch this one.... but from the sounds of it I will have to wait until they release it in the U.S. Unfortunately I do not have a player that plays U.K discs! =(

      Thanks for stopping by my place, too! Comments are rare in my place, so I love it when I get one. =) I will be sure to visit here lots, I enjoy browsing!

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    3. My guess is that Netflix should have the prior versions of this (1999 or 2011) so you shouldn't have too difficult a time with getting a copy. Hope you enjoy it, Evelyn! I know I have but then costume dramas are pretty cool. :)

      Hopefully this will come to the states soon. I am surprised it hasn't yet to be honest. Let's just hope a U.S. studio wises up and buys the rights to distribute it.

      Happy to stop in your lovely place, Evelyn - looking forward to future visits and I welcome you "browsing" here anytime. Thank you!

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  16. Wait, what?! There's a new Great Expectations adaptation and I missed it? I can't believe I never even heard about the 2012 version! Thanks for blogging about it, otherwise I might have missed it altogether.

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    1. This adaptation did kind of sneak up on everyone, Kate. Regardless it's quite good! Have you see the one from ITV right before it? I guess those who have read the book and seen the 2011 version think this one is better. I am torn. On one hand I like this one really well and another part of me enjoys the earlier version - guess like all the versions of Sense & Sensibility, all have their strengths and weaknesses. :)

      Would love your impressions once you see this 2012 version! :)

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  17. Great review, Rissi, I've been wanting to see this one! Like you, I always make it a point to see any new version of the Dickens' classics. :-)

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    1. Thank you for reading, Gwendolyn. :)

      Cannot wait to find out what you think of this one! If you've not yet seen the 2011 Masterpiece edition you should check into that one in the meantime. Now if only they'd re-make Martin Chuzzlewit. :)

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  18. As I've just started Great Expectations (the book) I'm interested-or I will be- in a movie version. This one looks pretty good, but then I'm not entirely certain that I'll love the book. Dark stuff doesn't go well with me, but I'm hoping I'll like it. Thank you for the review!

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    1. Cool! That's nice to hear, Sierra - the 2011 Masterpiece edition will likely be easier to find and is quite good. Between it and this one, these are the two best adaptations to date. Or that's my opinion. :)

      From what I hear, the movies take a lighter approach to the material as opposed to the book and what I always love about Dickens is no matter what, his movies always give us a happy-ever-after; save for one.

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  19. I still haven't seen this one! I wanted to leave 'a bit of time' between watching the BBC miniseries version and this one, but now more than a year has passed....

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    1. I'd only seen the BBC series once, Birdienl so there was plenty of time for me in-between. Now I've seen this one, I am quite "desperate" to see the earlier miniseries. Comparing these two most recent ones seems the two most compatible; missed the extra hour in this one but... it was good!

      Anxious for your impressions. :)

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