Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, adapted by Ray Jenkins

Contact Us

BBC Radio 7, 12-27 April 2010
This production, originally broadcast on the old Radio 5 in 1991, made little attempt to sketch in historical details, but instead transformed Dickens' novel into a character-driven melodrama, in which everyone had something to hide but found themselves exposed in the end. Thus Pip (Douglas Hodge) believed himself to be a gentleman, but found to his horror that his finances had been provided by the convict Magwitch (Robert Lang). Miss Havisham (Geraldine McEwan) shut herself up in Satis House with only Estella (Amanda Redman) for company, but found that retirement could not absolve her of her responsibilities. Estella herself was concerned with appearances that she could never admit how attracted she was to Pip, and ended up marrying the wastrel Drummle instead. Only at the very end of the adaptation could she admit how wrong-headed she had been.
The structure of each episode followed a particular pattern with one- or two-character exchanges, succeeded by a period of narration from Pip. This made it seem as if the novel was unfolding continuously; in this version, characters could never escape the influence of the past. Jenkins' adaptation also personalized the novel: while Dickens was certainly interested in the social and political conditions of the time, he was more concerned with demonstrating how Pip's great expectations were frustrated one by one through encounters with different characters.
As the adaptation moved towards its close, so Pip discovered how human feelings assumed more importance than money, status or power. Partly he learned this from the example of Joe Gargery, who stood by him and paid the young man's debts. But Sally Avens' production also revealed the benevolent side of characters like Jaggers' clerk Wemmick (Timothy Bateson), who invited Pip to spend the evening looking after his Aged P. Despite the exigencies of his job, Wemmick understood the importance of treating everyone kindly in a world where the past inevitably comes back to haunt the characters. Once Pip had learned this, he could forgive Estella, Magwitch, and all those whom he had encountered, whether they had been nice to him or not.  He departed for a new life working with Herbert Pocket (James Simmons), secure in the knowledge that great expectations no longer had any significance for him.