Anger as BBC’s Great Expectations makes hero Pip foul-mouthed... and portrays the Empire as ‘horrible’
By Cameron Charters and Sam Merriman
THE BBC’s new foul-mouthed adaptation of Great Expectations is ‘an insult’ to Charles Dickens, according to critics.
Anger has flared over the coarse language in the six-part series, due to be broadcast on BBC1 from next Sunday.
The 1861 novel was seen as a hard-hitting and biting portrayal of England at the time. But the reworked screen version has resulted in changes to the language and plot, as well as doing away with ‘Victorian stuffiness’.
In a freshly written piece of dialogue, protagonist Pip yells ‘Take your f***ing hands off me’ during one episode.
Last night lifelong Dickens enthusiast Sir John Hayes, chairman of the Common Sense Group of MPs, fumed that the adaptation had bastardised one of the literary greats.
He said: ‘The trend amongst clueless politically correct zealots is to bastardise the great canon of English literature either by vulgarising it in this way or sanitising it.’ The retelling of Pip’s rise from poverty to wealth – which stars Olivia Colman as the eccentric Miss Havisham – has been written by Steven Knight, best known for creating violent drama Peaky Blinders.
Knight’s version is expected to depict Victorian Britain in grimy realism – with maggots and mud, but also foul language.
The cast – including Fionn Whitehead as Pip and Shalom BruneFranklin as Estella, with whom Pip falls in love – have admitted this is an effort to remove Victorian sensibilities, or as Knight puts it: ‘Stripping all of that s**t away’.
But Sir John argued: ‘Classic works deserve to be respected and their authors revered.
‘It is an insult to both the texts and the writers to impose this kind of drivel on them.’
However, Knight and his colleagues believe by altering the language and some aspects of the plot, the classic will become more ‘accessible’ to modern audiences.
Novelist Philip Hensher, who has written about Dickens, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘It seems quite unlikely, I think, that a respectable, working-class boy like Pip would have been allowed to swear, in any point of his life.’
Hensher, whose book The Northern Clemency was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, said: ‘Dickens was interested in all sorts of different ways of talking.’
But he added: ‘He couldn’t have used swear words in print.
‘This just doesn’t seem his sort of thing to me.’
Dickens’s observations of British society and class have interested readers and influenced writers for more than 160 years.
In addition, it is thought there are roughly 100 films of his works in existence.
Another source of frustration for Dickens purists is the adaptation’s attack on the British Empire.
Sharing the anti-Empire sentiments shown in the series, actor Whitehead told The Daily Telegraph: ‘The Empire was a horrible thing which involved a lot of British people going out and enslaving, pillaging and destroying a lot of cultures around the world.
‘It was powered by greed.’ He added: ‘If there’s anyone walking around believing that the Empire was a great thing, they are kidding themselves.’
Asked if his version of Great Expectations would upset fans of the book, Knight said: ‘It’s everyone’s right to react in the way they want to react.
‘But I would say that the book exists, it is still there.
‘This is not an attempt to say the book is wrong or this is better.’
The Party’s Over
dmg media (UK)