BBC's new Great Expectations starring Olivia Colman divides audiences

The new version of the Charles Dickens' classic from the creator of Peaky Blinders featured sex, violence and bad language.

·3-min read
Olivia Colman stars in reinterpretation of Dickens classic Great Expectations
The BBC's latest adaptation of Great Expectations divided audiences. (BBC)

The BBC's new adaptation of Great Expectations has split opinion with an injection of sex, violence and bad language to the Charles Dickens classic.

Olivia Colman stars as Miss Havisham in the new Sunday drama scripted and produced by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, opposite Dunkirk actor Fionn Whitehead as Pip. Great Expectations has been adapted for film and TV 12 times, five by the BBC.

My Family star Robert Lindsay was among the viewers who were delighted with the new interpretation, tweeting: "#GreatExpectations raises the bar for great TV The critics of the @BBC should be silenced Such quality it’s astounding and serves the brilliance of Dickens."

But Telegraph journalist Allison Pearson branded it "desperate", commenting: "Desperately Doing Dickens Differently. Sigh. #GreatExpectations."

Read more: Great Expectations cast: Who's who in the star-studded BBC adaptation

Some viewers were unhappy with the profanities used during the production.

One said: "In an era where works by Dahl, Christie , Fleming etc are being “censored” for offensive language, I find it very strange that in the 1st 5 mins of Great Expectations on the BBC the F word has been used 3 times. Not sure Dickens ever wrote that word, why include it now ?"

And another declared: "Dickens will be turning in his grave #GreatExpectations."

Olivia Colman as Miss Havisham in Steven Knight's adaptation of Great Expectations. (BBC)
Olivia Colman as Miss Havisham in Steven Knight's adaptation of Great Expectations. (BBC)

Mail critic Christopher Stevens gave the show just one star, complaining: "All the characters have been needlessly rewritten, and nothing about the way they live rings true either...

"We had to wait less than five minutes for the first F-word. At least the actors sounded comfortable when they were cursing....

Watch: Olivia Colman discusses playing Miss Havisham in Great Expectations

"All of it looked stagey, shot in the studio with computer graphics dropped into the background like painted scenery. The only blessing is that the whole thing is so underlit, it’s practically invisible."

Rachel Cooke of the New Statesman scoffed: "What kind of writer thinks they can improve on Dickens?...

"Knight first fillets the book of all its tenderness and humour. Then he sets about his ghastly, prurient embellishments, fiddling needlessly with everything save for the mud on the Kent marshes and Magwitch’s beard."

Olivia Colman and Fionn Whitehead as Miss Havisham and Pip in Great Expectations. (BBC)
Olivia Colman and Fionn Whitehead as Miss Havisham and Pip in Great Expectations. (BBC)

Nick Hilton of The Independent awarded the series two out of five stars, saying: "This adaptation of the great novel is needless and lazy. It has been scarcely over a decade since the BBC’s last lavish spin on the tale, and so, even with the infusion of sex and violence and post-colonial theory, it is hard to feel excited about this new take. With all this lack of imagination or interest in new ideas, it seems like Miss Havisham’s clocks are not the only thing frozen in time."

And Lucy Mangan writing for The Guardian gave the show three stars but admitted there was "in no way" a need for a further adaptation of the novel.

But many viewers on Twitter were delighted by the first episode.

One said: "Wow. First episode effortlessly lived up to my #GreatExpectations - thank you @BBC for producing such high quality drama. #SupportTheBBC"

Matt Berry as Mr Pumblechook in Great Expectations. (BBC)
Matt Berry as Mr Pumblechook in Great Expectations. (BBC)

Another tweeted: "Oh my Goodness Great expectations is magnificent."

And a third said: "If first episode is anything to go by this is going to be good #greatexpectations."

Others were not so keen.

One complained: "Don’t know which BBC luvvie wrote this nonsense. The story is typical woke rubbish #GreatExpectations."

Read more: Is Great Expectations worth watching?

Another tweeted: "@BBCOne well done for murdering #greatexpectations"