Most people seem to have loved the BBC’s recent adaptation of Great Expectations but I was very disappointed because I felt much of the character of the book was lost. So I read the book again. Read it! I lived, breathed, absorbed it in every pore, felt as if I might be sucked right into its pages and disappear. Dickens must have been a magician. Every trick which the greatest of writers could exploit is here. I wrote briefly about it here and can’t really add much. When Armando Ianucci was talking about Dickens he said that no writer had ever got into a child’s mind the way Dickens did and he gave examples from David Copperfield. This reminded me of George Orwell saying that when he first read David Copperfield as a young boy, he believed the opening chapters had actually been written by a child, they rang so true to a child’s view of the world. Dickens used the same trick again in Great Expectations, so that we see Pip’s limited world through his own eyes.
The first person narrative creates the whole mood of the book. Watching the David Lean film again, I decided the reason it was more successful than the most recent TV adaptation was the occasional use of narration by John Mills as the older, wiser, sadder Pip which makes quite clear that he saw all along how bad his behaviour was towards Joe and deeply regretted it. As I’d only just re-read the book I was also able to notice how great chunks of the dialogue had been lifted straight from it. Of course Lean had to take liberties with the book: no Wopsle (no loss); no Orlick so a natural death for Mrs Joe; no fiancée or family for Herbert. Nevertheless it gives a truer picture of the book than the TV film which was so unsympathetic towards Pip.