Great Expectations: Falling in love with Miss Havisham

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I wanted to play Miss Havisham because she's an iconic character who pervades our world in various forms. So many people have written about her or based other characters on her over many decades.

I was interested in what it was that was so appealing about her, what it is that seems to get under people's skin.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations

We're talking about a woman who is deeply, almost psychotically manipulative and potentially really psychologically damaging to Pip and Estella, the two children that we see her have this direct impact on.

There was a curiosity there for me. Also reading the scripts and appreciating the adaptation but then also going back and reading Great Expectations and kind of falling in love with her complexities.

I don't know how much of that was about falling in love with my interpretation of her, or what I was getting off the page of the script.

I've tried to remember what my innocent reader's eyes were picking up on when I first took a look at Great Expectations when I was younger and whether she still held that position for me in terms of awe, as she does now.

I have a feeling it was probably different, a very uncomfortable take I had on her really early on.

I don't know whether my ideas are based on other people's ideas of how she's been built up over time.

The bottom line was knowing that the BBC would do a spectacular production.

Trailer: 'Your eyes have been opened... and now you cannot close them'

I think probably my favourite room on the set was the drawing room of Satis House because of the depth of it, the depth of the history, the muted colours, the butterflies, the birds and then the decay on top of all of that, the vastness, the height of the ceilings and the shafts of light just barely peeking through the windows... all of that.

I also really admired Sarah Phelps' adaptation and felt this was the one I wanted to be involved in.

Great Expectations is my favourite Charles Dickens book, because I feel like it has a humanity to it that has always moved me.

That starts at the very beginning with Magwitch being moved by Pip's bravery, of identifying the fact that this young boy is going to save a stranger by stealing the file from the one person he loves, and the person who loves him.

The heartbreak of Pip deciding to do that act and then at the last minute, grabbing a piece of pie for Magwitch.

It's recognised in that moment as Pip hands the pie over, that it also breaks Magwitch's heart.

That moment of pure innocence and humanity not only transforms Pip's life - unfortunately also in a negative way - but transforms those two human beings.

It opens Magwitch's heart in a way it has not been opened up before. It also carries you through the rest of the book, because it's a pure moment of one human being's kindness to another against everything he knows, up until that point.

I think Dickens' novels endure because there are common recognisable themes.

His characters are so complex, so multifaceted, painful and tragically human. But also he draws such interesting stories - he is a wonderful storyteller.

Miss Havisham interrogates Pip

I am sure it also matters when somebody read the book and what their situation was at that particular time.

A lot of people I know who said Great Expectations is their favourite book are men.

Did they read it when they were pre-pubescent and feeling lost and misunderstood? Pip is feeling the awe of the wider world, the world beyond, and how Miss Havisham draws him into that, and opens his eyes and his heart, ultimately to crush it.

I can imagine being a young man, and reading Pip's journey, falling in love in a mysterious way in this magical house where you have come from the hardship of working in a forge and having lost all of your brothers and sisters save one.

And here's hope, here is a door to the rest of the world - and then having that shut and then reopened.

I can imagine that journey as a young kid, especially a young boy, must be unbelievably exciting.

It was the journey pre-Harry Potter. Of course it was longer ago, but I can imagine young people having the same kind of magical response to Great Expectations that we did when Harry Potter books first started to come out.

That's if it does get introduced at an early age, in school or through a parent or whatever and the child is able to crack the density of it.

This wasn't my experience of it. My experience of it was dipping into it here and there and probably reading most of it in my late 20s.

I can only imagine the magic of it and the immersion in that world at a younger age.

Gillian Anderson plays Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

Great Expectations starts on BBC One and BBC One HD on Tuesday, 27 December at 9pm.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Watch Gillian (in costume) talking further about the Great Expectations script and set.

Read an article by Mike Osborn on the 'youthful' air of Gillian Anderson's Miss Havisham.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • Comment number 106. Posted by OverTheDune

    on 22 Mar 2012 00:00

    "I think Dickens' novels endure because there are common recognisable themes."

    I think Dickens' novels endure because they're razor sharp. He dreams up characters that could walk into any part of our own day-to-day (era accurate, of course) and you wouldn't question for a second whether or not they were real.

    He dreams of a new reality when the rest of us dream dreams.

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  • Comment number 105. Posted by Fat_Brain

    on 26 Jan 2012 11:53

    The background music of Great expectations (BBC) by Martin Phipps - is this commercially available?

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  • Comment number 104. Posted by Fiona Wickham - BBC TV blog editor

    on 12 Jan 2012 15:36

    Hello, very interesting discussion here! Karim (#103) and A (#80) - you asked about the music in Great Expectations. I enquired with the production team and it's an original score by Martin Phipps.

    CPW45 (#46) - about the background music. This has been one of the most common complaints to BBC TV - so you might like to read the blog post Danny Cohen (controller of BBC One) wrote about the research into it: Is the background music too loud?

    Thanks everyone for such expressive comments.

  • Comment number 103. Posted by Karim

    on 10 Jan 2012 05:18

    does anyone know what the music was in episode 1 at 33mins

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

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  • Comment number 102. Posted by HalfwayToCrazy

    on 8 Jan 2012 03:38

    "I thought the adaptation had it's strong points - Magwitch being one of them, but I found watching Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham painful. She was like Bette Davis in 'Whatever happened to Baby Jane" channelling Johnny Depp in 'Edward Scissorhands'. Disappointing."

    Hilarious. I didn't think she was painful to watch. Her acting, as usual, was amazing. She did, however, look an awful lot like Baby Jane Hudson. And the channeling Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands comment? Priceless.

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  • Comment number 101. Posted by RosieSurrey

    on 6 Jan 2012 14:07

    Sadly, I'd like to endorse comments that have been made about the casting. Eveything about this production boded well and I throughly enjoyed the first episode up to the time change. The super boy Pip, who was just right had transformed into an impossible image. I'm sorry, casting director and producer, but no matter how good Douglas Booth might be as an actor, his look is really at odds with mainstream drama and makes his character really hard to believe in. It's even hard to watch, as the model shoot looks get totally in the way of the character and story. As others have said, Pip is an ordinary boy - as indeed he was at the start - not a glamour boy.

    Sorry BBC, but for all the excellent production values and some super performances in episode 1 I couldn't watch it any further.

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  • Comment number 100. Posted by CB

    on 5 Jan 2012 22:40

    I really enjoyed this adaptation. The cinematography was stunning, and I thought the production really caught the spirit of Dickens' work.

    Unlike a lot of people I thought the casting was very well done. Oscar Kennedy was brilliant as the younger Pip. Yes, Douglas Booth is rather 'pretty' but I think it is silly to think that someone from a poor background could not have been blessed with good looks. Also, the producers commented that they picked Booth for his sensitivity and vulnerability, which I think really come through in his performance. Gillian Anderson is exactly who I would have picked to play Miss Havisham, having admired her performance in Bleak House. Also I thought Estella was very well cast, as although she might not be your typical beauty she possess the distant and ethereal quality Estella requires emphasised by those staring blue eyes.

    Sacrifices will always have to be made when adapting a novel for television, however, I do not feel that any of deviations from Dickens' work were unwarranted, or even that radical anyway. The main difference is the ending. I did at first wonder whether it was right to change this, however, this is not the first production to have done so, and I can understand why Sarah Phelps felt it was necessary.
    Overall another brilliant period drama, bravo BBC!

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  • Comment number 99. Posted by 70S PAUL

    on 5 Jan 2012 12:12

    I loved this it was almost majical exalant casting . i thourt gillian anderson was amasing. she even looked hot as miss haveshum. iv hever read the book but now im intrested in dickings work great job bbc.

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  • Comment number 98. Posted by Ashlyme

    on 4 Jan 2012 23:11

    Ok, I concede the drastically rewritten ending with Estella not having been ruined but being in possession of, not one, but two fortunes did jar a bit. It did let a suggestion of opportunism in Pip's going back to Satis House mar the purity of his undying love for Estella. And it let Miss Havisham off the hook.

    I confess though that I was quite pleased when Drummel's horse kicked his head in. Perhaps Sarah Phelps loathes him as much as I do. But he could have suffered death by horse after he'd ruined himself and Estella and still have left the essence of the ending intact.

    Joe fetching up at Pip's club, I liked.
    Though it's a great piece of Dickens comedy I've never really liked the way in the book that Joe is made to look a fool when he sees Pip in London. Pip can be shown to be acting like an ungrateful jerk without the need for Joe to look silly. In her interpretaion Sarah Phelps was clearly referencing that scene from the book - Joe just chucking his hat on the table; he hadn't forgotten who he was just because he was in London, even if Pip had.

    To the people who loathed this adaptation of, yes, one of the best novels in English, I offer this observation. Several of the people who enjoyed this production but who hadn't read the book have said they are now going to read the book. Now that can't be a bad thing can it?

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  • Comment number 97. Posted by Claire

    on 4 Jan 2012 13:42

    Was really looking forward to this and i really enjoyed it,even though there were things missed out.I wish it had been longer,like Bleak House,which i thought was so well done.
    All the actors performed well in my opinion.Older Pip was rather beautiful,but i will not be rude about the actress who played Estella,unlike some,but she just was not striking enough to play opposite him.Missing Biddy was a bad idea too.
    Douglas Booth what a face though!!Beautiful.

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