Great Expectations for this new drama

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Great Expectations (BBC1, 9pm)

A Christmas Carol must hold the record for the most-adapted story by Charles Dickens – even the Muppets had a go – but Great Expectations probably isn’t far behind.

David Lean’s 1946 movie, which is often considered the definitive big-screen take, was the fourth film to be based on the 1861 novel – the first, silent version appeared in 1917.

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Since then, there have been more movie versions, including a 1998 version starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow which moved the action to contemporary New York, and a lot of TV adaptations. In the 2010s alone we had a BBC serial with Ray Winstone and Gillian Anderson, a movie with Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, and a prequel, Magwitch.

So, why are there still such great expectations around the latest version, which arrives on BBC One tonight?

Well, for a start it’s comes from the pen of Steven Knight. As the man who gave us the international hit Peaky Blinders and last year’s acclaimed SAS Rogue Heroes, he’s got a very impressive track record.

He also brought us a 2019 version of A Christmas Carol, starring Guy Pearce as Scrooge, which kept the period setting, but proved that Knight could still put a dark, contemporary spin on one of the world’s best-know stories.

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Knight seems to have something similar in mind for his new project, which he believes still strikes a chord with audiences. He says: “Adapting Dickens’ work is a delight. I chose Great Expectations as the next work to bring to the screen not just because of the timeless characters, but also because of the very timely story. A story of class mobility and class intransigence, told through an intensely emotional and personal first-person narrative.

“As the son of a blacksmith myself, Pip’s journey from the forge into society is a very special one to me.”

If that wasn’t enough to convince you, there’s also the impressive cast, headed by Olivia Colman as Miss Havisham. One of Dickens’ most memorable creations, the character was jilted on her big day and has been wearing her wedding dress ever since.

Taking on such an iconic role might be a daunting prospect for many actresses, but Colman, who won an Oscar playing Queen Anne in The Favourite and an Emmy for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, is more than up to the challenge.

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Colman is joined by Dunkirk star Fionn Whitehead, who plays the adult Pip (Tom Sweet is the young version). He’s an orphan who lives with his cruel sister Sara (Hayley Squires) and her kindly blacksmith husband Joe (Owen McDonnell), but who believes he is destined for better things.

His life is about to be changed by two incidents – an encounter with an escaped convict, Magwitch (Johnny Harris), and a call from Mr Pumblechook (Matt Berry), who informs Sara and Joe that the wealthy, eccentric Miss Havisham is looking for a companion for her adopted daughter Estella (Chloe Lea as a child, Shalom Brune-Franklin as an adult) and thinks Pip could fit the bill.

Meeting Miss Havisham opens up a world of possibilities for Pip, but will this opportunity make him the man he wants to be?