Great Expectations (1999)

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Released 5-Oct-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 185:05 (Case: 182)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Julian Jarrold

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Ioan Gruffudd
Justine Waddell
Charlotte Rampling
Bernard Hill
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI Box Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Great Expectations is one of Charles Dickens' most enduring novels. Though lacking some of the grotesques seen in his other works it has an engaging, sometimes thrilling, story and a likeably flawed protagonist. Serialized from 1860 to 1861 and one of his last works it connects with its audience with themes of hope and disappointment and unrequited love. It has been filmed many times, including the classic David Lean directed version in 1946 with Sir John Mills in the lead and has been modernised in a version starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow and directed by Alfonse Cuaron. It has also had various TV adaptations. This BBC mini-series dates from 1999. It is available only as part of the Dickens Collection.

    As the series begins young Pip ( short for Phillip Pirrip) has no expectations of any type. Orphaned, he is living with his nasty sister and her kind husband Joe. His life is mapped out for him. He will follow Joe as the town blacksmith. After just surviving the fright of being forced to assist an escaped prisoner he settles into a boring existence.

    One day he receives an invitation to visit the local wealthy eccentric, Miss Haversham. Due to a wedding day tragedy many years before she is cloistered in her mansion and has only her young protégé Estella with whom to plan her revenge on the world. Pip is instantly humiliated and captivated by Estella.

    One day Pip is visited by Miss Haversham's lawyer Jaggers, who tells him that he has a mysterious benefactor who desires that he go to London to be trained to be a gentleman. Pip has Great Expectations! Believing Miss Haversham to be that benefactor he visits her to bestow his gratitude which she knowingly accepts.

    When in London Pip fits right into the world of young gentleman. He quickly falls into debt. More seriously, he meets Estella, who has naturally grown up into a beautiful woman, and falls deeply for her. The final third of the film is a story both of love, as Pip grapples with the actions of Estella, and drama as his benefactor comes forward and is promptly in huge danger.

    Many will remember with fondness the 1989 mini-series with Anthony Hopkins, John Rhy-Davies and Jean Simmons as Miss Haversham. The expression "I mean ter say Pip!" from the gentle Joe has become an saying used in my household since the series was shown although the exact meaning of the phrase has been lost in time.

    If this version is poorer by comparison it is only due to the fact that the earlier series, at 6 hours, was double this program's length allowing for a greater depth of story-telling. As a result some of the scenes that lingered in the memory from the previous version, such as where the rough Joe is embarrassed when he meets gentleman Pip in London are nowhere to be seen. Where this version triumphs is in the economy of story and the rapid pace.

    This Great Expectations emphasises the darkness of the surroundings whilst minimizing the failings of Pip himself. Whilst portrayed as foolish in his pursuit of the unobtainable Estella, dramatist Tony Marchant and director Julian Jarrold leave out the whole process of Pip being too much of a gentleman for Joe and the blacksmith trade. It is a dark show.

    Pip as a man is played by Ioan Gruffudd who brings the sort of debonair quality he showed in Hornblower to the role. It is a real treat to have an actor of his skill in the role as he keeps Pip from being the bland hero that Dickens leads can be. As the coldly efficient lawyer Jaggers, Ian McDiarmid channels his performance as Chancellor Palpatine from the Star Wars movies. Charlotte Rampling is a scarily mad Miss Haversham, bringing to her character a real feral quality quite at odds with the dottiness with which she is often played. This is a woman who is dark at heart.

    The ending of Great Expectations always creates controversy. The original ending was seen as too dark so Dickens used an ending which satisfied the public, but that many see as out of tone with the book. Most filmed versions opt to fudge the ending and this is no exception, falling somewhere in the middle with a mixture of hope and sadness. There are some who may feel that this production is a mixed success, either too short or too long. I missed the extra scenes with Joe and felt that the scenes with the dastardly Orlick were so truncated as to be difficult to follow. All in all it is a fine production balancing some quality action with a nice production design and pacey direction.

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Transfer Quality


    This adaptation of Great Expectations is presented on DVD in a 1.85:1 transfer. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    The production dates from 1999 and is shot with the sort of gloomy spare cinematography that the adaptation seems to demand. Shorn of the sentimental moments the film is often grim, with smiles a rarity, necessitating a colour palette shot through with melancholy of love denied. Dark greens, browns and blacks dominate. Having said that the black levels are quite deep and no Dickens fan could be disappointed with the presentation.

    There are some minor specks about and some grain to be seen but nothing which distracts from the program. There is no aliasing or other defects.

    Skin tones are accurate.

    The whole 3 hour experience is crammed on one dual layer DVD but compression issues aren't a problem. The chief complaint could be a little haziness and softness of the image at times.

    There are subtitles for the hearing impaired which are clear and easy to read and give a good account of the on-screen action.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   Great Expectations is presented in English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).

    The sound quality and presentation is quite adequate for the production. This is not as intent on contrasting rich and poor as other Dickens and it is only Joe and Pip's friend Biddy who have strong accents. The dialogue is easy to hear and well spoken by the cast. It is in perfect sync.

    The music composed by Peter Salem is only occasionally heard but brings a subtle tension to the film, for example in the scene where young Pip is wandering around Miss Haversham's house as if in a Chamber of Horrors.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are no extras.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This DVD is available in Region 1 in an identical version, but coupled with Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. It does not appear to be currently available separately anywhere.


    This production of Great Expectations avoids some of the pitfalls of summarizing a long book into three hours. It is elevated above other Dickens by the quality of the acting and the always unforgettable character of Miss Haversham.

    The video and audio transfer are quite good without being reference quality.

    There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

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