Great Expectations (2023) Is Not So Great


I’ve often stated my dislike of the writings of Charles Dickens, and at Frock Flicks we’ve long noted that the period when his works are mostly set, about 1830s to 1860s, is the death of fashion. Yet a bunch of you have been clamoring for a review of the latest TV miniseries adaption of Great Expectations (2023). So I tried to take one for the team, but I cannot say it was worth it nor did I get very far! Especially when I realized it was 100 episodes long (OK, maybe six, but that’s waaaay too many) and the entire first episode was a dark, dirty, muddy mess all about Magwitch being murdery and Pip being moody. If not for this blog, I’d have dropped it after 20 minutes.

Yeah, yeah, Olivia Colman is a great idea as Miss Havisham, and that character is the only redeeming part of this novel IMO. Also, it’s nice to see Matt Berry in another frock flick. But this production is the epitome of the “gritty reboot” that nobody asked for, replete with gratuitous violence. It’s dreary as all hell to watch. Except for the random masochistic sex and all the opium smoking, which is just weird (I don’t remember that in my literature classes).

Costume-wise, I’m not entirely sure what year this is supposed to be set in. The poorer characters wear generically Victorian stuff. At first, in the dark gloom, I thought Miss Havisham’s wedding dress was 1830s with huge puffed sleeves, but in screencapping, I found it’s late 1820s. The sleeve heads could have big puffs then (a precursor to the 1830s bigger sleeve), and I could see that the waistline was higher and the skirt slimmer.

Great Expectations (2023)

In an interview with IndieWire, costume designer Verity Hawkes had this explanation for Miss Havisham’s costume:

“I knew I wanted to have all of the Chinese symbols because her family made their money from the opium trade. So her headdress is a Chinese wedding headdress. The veil and the train have Chinese motifs of birds and flowers. Down the front of her dress is a copy of a Chinese silk panel that we had fabulous craftspeople making all the embroidery. It’s all different weights of silk and the netting is very fine silk — although it looks very different by the time it had gone through all the breakdown processes.”

I’m rolling my eyes a bit at the link with the opium trade. In the book, her father was a prosperous brewer who left her property with valuable rents.

Great Expectations (2023)

Then we see young Estella’s costumes that are also kind of 1820s with spencer jackets over a slim-ish dresses.

Great Expectations (2023) Great Expectations (2023)

Hawkes implied in that same interview that Miss Havisham shares her older clothes with Estella, and said:

“I wanted [Estella and Miss Havisham] to have a ‘Grey Gardens‘ feel about them. They’re these isolated women with their own worldview. Her and Estella share the clothes, and all sorts of things.”

I guess  the story is supposedly set in the 1840s, Miss Havisham’s wedding would have taken place 15 to 20 years ago, and she’s given Estella her own clothes from before that? Wtfrock, ppl? Talk about over-complicating things.

Hawkes also said to IndieWire, “I wanted to push it slightly and not do museum pieces.” Maybe that’s her explanation for the following…

When Pip turns 18 (and the actors for Pip and Estella change to Fionn Whitehead and Shalom Brune-Franklin), Estella’s dress becomes this pink monstrosity.

Great Expectations (2023)

This is such an unflattering dress! I feel sorry for the actress because it just looks awful. And it’s not from any one discernible historical period, so there’s no excuse. It’s a mishmash mess of cold shoulders & ruffles with a sloppy neckline & high-ish waistline.

She also shows up like this, which I can’t tell if it’s the ruffle dress with a filthy robe over it or what.

Great Expectations (2023)

For a practice ball at Miss Havisham’s house, Estella wears this ballgown that’s a modernized take on 1830s-ish. The puffed sleeves of the 1830s have become these giant roses, which, fine, it’s an interesting idea and if there seemed to be some unifying overall design vision or this reflected something important about the character, I might buy it. Except it just seems random here! It wouldn’t be an “old” dress of Miss Havisham’s, and the sleeves are too big for the 1840s. Plus, that’s a sorry attempt at fan-front pleating that was super popular during the 1840s, or maybe it’s meant to be a half-assed reference? IDK.

Great Expectations (2023)

When Estella tells Pip his education is complete, she’s in this orange renfaire outfit that makes even less sense.

Great Expectations (2023)

I’m not even going to address the modern stretch lace glove situation here. These costumes aren’t interesting enough to make up for the tedious mud-and-blood take on Dickens.


Could any of you stand more than three episodes of this Great Expectations? Why or why not?

38 Responses

  1. Charity

    I’m… checks watch five episodes in and it’s so BORING. I enjoy and own several adaptations of this (the best one is the two hour version with Holiday Granger) and none of them drag the way this one does. Adding opium dens, brothels, and f-words doesn’t make it edgy, it just pads an already bloated running time. Also, Estella wearing crappy filthy clothes makes no sense, since Miss H is preoccupied with making her into a beautiful woman who will break men’s hearts. (Wearing trash? Okay.)

    • Al Don

      I’ve enjoyed a few adaptations. I thought David Lean’s 1946 version was the best shot. I liked parts of the modernized 1998 version though it ended up missing the mark (Alfonso Cuarón’s other work is far better).

      I haven’t seen the 2012 version with Holiday Granger though. The costumes and hair for the leads look a bit post-modern for my taste but otherwise it’s recommended?

      • Charity

        I think the 2012 version does a good job of condensing the plot but keeping the important parts, and the acting is very good, yes.

  2. Lynne Connolly

    I’m a huge fan of Dickens’s works, and from my perspective – it was awful. Great Expectations starts with one of the most cinematic scenes in all literature – with the as-yet unnamed convict bursting out of nowhere, grabbing Pip, turning him upside down to shake out his pockets, and demanding food.
    In this version we were subjected to a full introduction to Magwitch, and his feud with Compeyson, and the riot. A great beginning ruined.
    Then it went on to all the opium stuff. If they’d wanted to talk about the Victorian opium trade, maybe try another of his books instead. It was discussed in at least two. The writer of this dismal version said that Dickens couldn’t talk about it in his day. Wrong. It doesn’t fit Miss Havisham, and takes drama away from her deeper, psychological problems. “Oh, it was the opium” just doesn’t work.
    Pip was depicted at the start as being an avid reader, especially of Shakespeare. The Pip of the book is barely literate.
    As you said, the clothes are all over the place. Just no.

    • ED

      If it were Miss Havisham ordering from the tailors that’s not exactly unlikely (In liquor or out, Miss Havisham is NOT if sober judgement): one would, however, expect Miss Estella to rationalise her appearance after becoming a married lady (and out from under Miss Havisham, though alas! In the power of a husband not likely to make a happy marriage).

  3. Northcountry girl

    I’m always suspicious of “gritty” remakes. Dickens could do gritty when he wanted, but he also included humor and love in his stories. Joe Gargery, one of the best characters for sheer decency has been downgraded as a character so much in this series that the meaning of the story has been distorted- just to take one instance of the distortions perpetrated by the production. And Estella is dressed in such ratty clothes! Miss Havisham is rich! She could and did afford to dress Estella beautifully to create a creature who would punish men! More distortions!

  4. gdalfonzo

    I made it through all six episodes because I had to, for my blog about Dickens. If not for that, I’d probably given up in the first ten minutes. It really was horrible. Appreciate your take on the costumes — they were terribly unflattering, and your analysis helps me understand why, since I’m not very knowledgable about fashion myself!

  5. myladyswardrobe

    cries. Please can we STOP having these awful “reboots” and visuals to be “relevant” to a modern audience (and isn’t that patronising, snobbish and condescending anyway?).

    I’ve given up bothering with any periodesque production created in the past 10 years or so as they are all utterly rubbish (Downton Abbey and some Queen Victoria depictions not withstanding).

    Just awful on all levels.

    Thank goodness for Frock Flicks.

    • Boxermom

      Right there with you, although I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Rosaline with Kaitlyn Dever. It was full of anachronisms, but leaned into them. Don’t know if you ever watched Hercules or Xena, Warrior Princess. It had the same kind of goofy sensibility. :)

      • Lily Lotus Rose

        Oh, Boxermom, I was rolling with Rosaline until Romeo said, “My bad.” That one line just set me off!!

  6. Roxana

    The actress playing Estella should sue. Surely making a beautiful woman look hideous is a crime? I can see that decently costumed she’d be very attractive but she looks sick with chagrin in these horrors.

  7. Bel

    I agree with everyone else that introducing opium is such an odd choice for this novel (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, meanwhile, literally features an opium addict as a character, and is moreover one of his bleakest books in tone, why not adapt that one if you want to address the tragedy and destruction caused by the opium trade?). And dressing the very pretty actress who plays Estella here in clothes that would be better suited to a Tim Burton character (if they were better-made!) does constitute a crime, in my opinion. Though it’s true that it’s always nice to see Matt Berry!

    • Roxana.

      Estella apparently has also been deprived of comb, brush and hairpins. Doesn’t that qualify as abuse?

  8. Brandy Loutherback

    I have no interest in slogging through this mess! You’re a braver woman than I for sitting through this!

  9. Richard

    Wow. These clothes are tragic. I was looking forward to this, but I think I’m doing a 180.

    • lynda

      It was mostly dreadful, except for all the scenes with Mr. Jaggers. Not sure the character was written to havr been so fucking HOT, but it really worked here, just saying.

      • gdalfonzo

        Ashley Thomas was tremendous as Jaggers. I really wished he’d had a better adaptation to star in. I cringed for the poor guy when he had to utter melodramatic tripe like “Because I am known to be evil!”

  10. Coco

    The episodes were written by Steven Knight, who also adapted the “What if Scrooge was sexy” Guy Pearce in “A Christmas Carol” a few years ago. I guess he’s going for a Dark Dickens Prestige TV universe. Stay tuned for “Bleaker House,” “Harder Times,” “Oliver Twist: Maximum Orphanage,” and “Nicholas Fuckelby.”

  11. Lily Lotus Rose

    Oh, dear! I haven’t seen this one yet, and now I don’t know if I will. It had vaguely been on my radar because well, Olivia Coleman and Dickens…but, Lord, these costumes are sooo ugly and, as you say, NONSENSICAL!! This post had me pop over to IMDB to confirm that I’d seen the actress Shalome Brune-Franklin before in the Netflix version of Cursed–an Arthurian tale with Nimue as the main character. She is very pretty and a good actress, and I remember wishing then that she’d scored a better role in a better Arthurian tale. Looks like she didn’t fare any better in this Dickens adaptation.

    On a different note, I laughed when I read this line: “The poorer characters wear generically Victorian stuff,” because that’s what I would write if this were my blog!! After so many years of reading this blog, I feel like I should have a better working vocabulary, but alas, “generically Victorian stuff” would be all I could muster. That’s why I keep coming here–for your expertise!! I’m still undecided about whether to try to watch this. I mean…maybe for snarking purposes??

  12. Frances Germeshausen

    Thanks for sparing me the time to watch. Looks like a s%&t show.

  13. Orian

    I love reading Dickens, not least because he is a master of language and characterisation. Have also very much enjoyed many adaptations of his novels, including the recent ‘David Copperfield’. However, this ‘Great Expectations’ was a complete travesty, the worst ‘adaptation’ of any Dickens novel I have yet seen. I wonder how many of the actors realised what they had signed up to and how many later wished they had not. Steven Knight may be a talent, but he certainly hid it well here. Why not just write his own Victorian tale, rather than hang onto Dickens’ coattails.

    • Gill

      Totally agree. What a waste of a fine cast. The only thing Knight took from the book is the naming – and even then, he got Pip’s surname wrong. (It’s only mentioned in the first sentence of the book, FFS…)

      • gdalfonzo

        And Pip’s sister’s first name wrong. Her name was Georgiana (after her mother, as Pumblechook tells us).

        • Gill

          Every single bit of it wrong, including the total absence of Orlick. Not to mention any of the funny bits. Why pretend any of this had anything to do with the book?

  14. Leslie

    Yup. Agree with all of the above. Didn’t make it through more than the first episode (and I think I slept through most of that).

  15. LadySlippers

    I intensely dislike this book. I failed 3rd quarter English because I read the book immediately after it was assigned and literally couldn’t be bothered to write a paper about it six weeks later. So I got a big fat F for the quarter. No regrets. And nothing about this film makes me want to revisit it. It’s too over the top.

    Thanks for confirming my suspicions. Also, thank you for taking one for the team so we/I didn’t have to. I sincerely appreciate it. 🌸

  16. Gill

    I’m grimly watching to the end, because I’ve started, so I’ll finish. Just don’t blame Dickens for this farrago. As an escaped English teacher I know the book quite well, and any resemblance it has to this thing vanished within minutes. If he wanted to write a weird Victorian tale about opium, slavery and the Empire, why not just invent his own characters instead of nicking the names but precious little else from the book? My husband keeps asking me questions as we watch it – or, did, but he’s got tired of “Nope, this bit isn’t in the book either.”

    Olivia Colman chews the scenery beautifully, but even she can’t save this mess. The costumes are bizarre approximations, there’s no sense of history, and all the key moments have been abandoned. Of course there’s no humour, even in the bits specifically written to be funny. (Mr Wemmick’s home, for example.)

    I have literally NO IDEA how this story will end, because every bit so far has been warped. And it’s not even pretty to look at.

    I’m a Dickens fan (sorry, Trystan) and I think they should hitch up a turbine power generator to his grave, he must be turning over in it so fast!

    Also, Pip GARGERY? WTF? This is the most WTF of WTFery I’ve seen sing Reign, and that is saying a lot.

    • Nzie

      “If he wanted to write a weird Victorian tale about opium, slavery and the Empire, why not just invent his own characters instead of nicking the names but precious little else from the book?” Well, and now I definitely won’t watch it. I had a very similar similar objection to the Anne with an E Netflix series. Not everything needs a gritty remake, or to be remade to fit the aims of a person who had no role in the original. Just, you know, take inspiration, change more, and do your own thing. It seems wrong to want to get the benefit of books’ goodwill while changing so many elements as to not really be the same story anymore.

  17. Matt

    I was wondering how you felt about the dyeing and distressing? I thought it was wonderful and elevated the costume to art. I also thought the costumes of the lower classes were really well hashed out. Perfect layering of texture and contrast. Also thought the layering of pattern and color was super elevated in all the menswear. Directors don’t really like to see this period on the screen so I like the idea elevating the costume to surreal, nightmare, fantasy kind of worked.

  18. Helen Rhodes

    I didn’t think I would enjoy this series. To my surprise, I’m enjoying it very much. Rather dark and gloomy – a great setting about ambition and capitalism.


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