Pip or Poirot?

Despite some well directed moments I can’t help but feel disappointment. One very effective silent exchange between Pip and Magwitch, during which we are to sense a profound meaning for the convict. Producers have gone for a historically realistic depiction of the convict’s plight, recreating a bloody and painful process of soldering his fetters. What is lost, however, is Dickens gentle touch, his deft weaving together of humor and imagination into the black events on the marshes.

Gone are Pip’s furtive gestures to make away from the kitchen table with his own bread, and his painful guilt over disturbing the heretofore completely honest friendship with Joe. We perceive nothing in this version to imply that Joe is the closest friend Pip has known, or that events at Miss Havisham’s were so strange and humiliating that he had to invent a tall tale to disguise his burgeoning understanding of his lowly origins.

The attention paid to Miss Havisham’s hands in Sunday night’s version may well be contrasted with future episodes’ attention to other significant hands in Dickens’ plot, especially Estella’s, but we were given no indication that Estella’s hands may bespeak her mysterious parentage. The young actress playing early Estella appears far more penetrating than her adult replacement. And why does Pip leaving for London appear as anemic as “Edward” of the Twilight films? Can he have spent months and months at the Forge, giving him a complexion something like Joe’s? I am prepared for anything now that the Gossip Girl factor has been met. Two wealthy snobs with overbearing parent figures exchange witticisms as they pass from big city exteriors to drawing rooms over a period of months without growing any more mature.

For me, what is missing most at this point is Pip’s lively imagination and resourcefulness: the thing that allow him to help the convict, and to poison Mr. Pumblechook in so doing. I want to see the grasping and obsequious Pumblechook made a fool of by Pip and Dickens; instead I see only a harsh blow delivered to Pip’s head. I want to see Biddy, who teaches Pip to write, and offers her sound advice and grounds him with a true reflection of himself when he gets a big head. I can accept that the filmmakers chose to omit her character and to trim Pumblechook’s role, and can accept the choice to depict a darker vision of Victorian England than has often been given us of Dickens through Oliver! and A Christmas Carol. I have not yet seen enough even to disagree with the potentially feminist, or at least more gender-conscious portrayal of Miss Havisham as a woman more sinned against than sinning.

I confess to being a little perplexed at why Magwitch is so bloodthirstily presented that, rather than hold on to Compeyson until the watchmen arrive  in order to “give him up,” shouting, as Dickens has him do,  “Convicts! Runaways! Guard!”,  this Convict appears dead set on killing the other. In the novel, his purpose is deliberately to force him back to the Hulks, even if it means he himself will be sent back there.  (“Murder him?…Let him go free?…No,no,no,no”, he ironically replies to Compleyson’s accusations.)  I can forgive alterations that seem designed to heighten Pip’s revulsion at Magwitch, in the interest of the streamlined film-narrative, even if they cause the Magwitch I know and love to seem less forgivable and less forgiving. (Rather than Dickens’s line “I’m sorry to say, I’ve eat your pie”, screenwriters substitute “I’m not sorry; I was hungry.” Perhaps it makes Joe seem more magnanimous to allow that a starving and unapologetic man is entitled to his pie, but it warps our view of the convict in so doing.)

But why alter a characterization that seems to me to be at the very heart of this novel: Joe’s earnest humility, or his own victimization at the hands of an abusive father? A perfect opportunity to depict Joe’s humanness was missed during the signing of the indentures, the apprenticeship papers. The novel has Joe communicate indirectly with Miss H. through Pip, the intermediary, because of his great discomfort and nervousness in the presence of such a lady. Pip’s own shame takes on larger proportions in direct relation to Joe’s exaggerated reverence. We have missed seeing the many days Pip has spent with Joe having “larks” over the years, and Pip’s own education, aided by tutor Biddy, as it quickly overtakes Joe’s meager one, which was impractical given the beatings to the head he received as a lad. In the new version, Joe exchanges words directly with Miss H., and little is made of his friendship with Pip – a relationship which Pip is so quick to exchange for a new mysterious one, instigated through the lawyer Jaggers (D. Suchet) by a silent benefactor.

The humanity and humor of Dickens’s characters are more than hinted at in this TV adaptation, but the dimensionality of Miss Havisham alone appears targeted for development. I am hopeful that with the larger part slated for Mr. Jaggers in the rest of the novel (its second and third parts as published), David Suchet will flesh out his own character and generously allow the players on screen with him a chance to develop their own.



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