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What to expect from Great Expectations

What to expect from Great Expectations

A lavish new Dickens adaptation with Oscar winner Olivia Colman as Miss Havisham has arrived. Here’s what you need to know – plus more great literary characters on screen

By Charlotte Briggs, Staff Writer

If you like Olivia Colman playing eccentric ladies who live in big houses – and who doesn’t – then the BBC’s latest adaptation of Great Expectations should be on your watchlist. Written by Charles Dickens and published in 1860, this timeless story has remained popular ever since and with good reason.


The plot follows orphan Philip “Pip” Pirrip, played by Tom Sweet (Gunpowder) as a child and later by Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk). Growing up poor, he dreams of becoming a gentleman – and a twist of fate leads him to the tortured Miss Havisham (Colman, The Crown) and her beautiful yet arrogant adopted daughter Estella (Shalom Brune-Franklin, Our Girl).


As an adult, Pip navigates the trials and tribulations of life in Victorian London, realising his dreams while meeting plenty of unsavoury characters along the way. But can he stay true to his morals? And will he end up in the arms of his true love? You’ll have to find out when it starts on Sunday 26 March at 9pm on BBC One HD (CH 101). Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite.

This latest adaption comes from British writer Steven Knight, but this isn’t the first time he’s entered the world of Dickens. The Peaky Blinders and Taboo creator has already penned a spine-tingling version of A Christmas Carol and it looks like he’ll be bringing his gothic magic into this classic tale too. 


He’s also assembled a cast filled with quality. Johnny Harris (A Christmas Carol) plays Magwitch, Trystan Gravelle (Mr Selfridge) is Compeyson, Matt Berry (Toast Of London) is Mr Pumblechuck and Ashley Thomas (The Ipcress File) is Jaggers. With such extraordinary talent coupled with Knight’s ability to draw the very best out of a story, we certainly have… great expectations for this series.


But Great Expectations would be nothing without arguably Dickens’ most memorable character, Miss Havisham. Colman, an Oscar winner for The Favorite and one of the finest British actors working today, is an inspired choice, and is able to showcase Havisham’s fragility, eccentricity and cold, calculating cruelness in equal measures.


It’s set to be an iconic interpretation of a character played by everyone from Martita Hunt and Marjorie Hawtrey to Helena Bonham Carter and Gillian Anderson.


When the right actor is cast in such a role, it can truly elevate an adaptation of a beloved literary classic. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite performances in adaptations of enduringly popular book that you can catch on Virgin Media right now.


Tanya Maniktala as Lata Mehra in A Suitable Boy

Find it in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer

Vikram Seth’s story of two North Indian families navigating marital arrangements, forbidden love and religious conflicts was the BBC’s first historical drama with an all-south Asian cast. And among the 110 actors in the series, it was Maniktala (Flames) as Lata who stole the show, playing the story’s Hindu protagonist who’s under pressure from her mother to find a suitable husband. Honorary mentions also go to Hindi-language cinema royalty Tabu (Life Of Pi) as Saeeda Bai and Ishaan Khatter (Don’t Look Up) as Maan Kapoor. Fun fact: Tabu played a version of Miss Havisham in an Indian adaptation of Great Expectations called Fitoor.


Keira Knightley as Lizzie Bennet in Pride And Prejudice

Find it in Apps & Games > Netflix

The 2005 film version of Jane Austen’s tale of romance and wit is brought to vivid life by period drama princess Keira Knightley (The Duchess), who gives a fresh take on spirited heroine Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet. Eldest child Lizzie lives with her family in the English countryside, where she faces the pressure to marry from her parents, played by Brenda Blethyn (Vera) and Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games). Sparks fly when the cautious Mr Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen, Quiz) comes to town, leading to a will-they-won’t-they clash of personalities – and a performance that earned Knightley an Oscar nomination.


Regé-Jean Page as the Duke of Hastings in Bridgerton

Find it in Apps & Games > Netflix

This glamorous Regency-era drama series based on Julia Quinn’s hugely popular novels took the world by storm when it debuted in 2020. Among the glittering ballgowns, grand stately homes and opulent festivities, Regé-Jean Page’s award-winning performance as Simon Bassett, the Duke of Hastings, and his redemption arc captured the hearts of both Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor, Dickensian) and fans around the world. We’re still getting over his departure from the show – but we’ll always have that swooningly romantic first season.


Emma Corrin as Lady Chatterley in Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Find it in Apps & Games > Netflix

Emma Corrin certainly has a talent for playing women doing what they can to find pleasure when trapped in unhappy relationships, having won critical acclaim and a Golden Globe for their emotional portrayal of the young Princess Diana in The Crown. Next up for Corrin was the role of Constance “Connie” Reid, aka Lady Chatterley, a married aristocrat who begins a steamy affair with gamekeeper Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell, SAS: Rogue Heroes). After DH Lawrence’s novel achieved notoriety thanks to an obscenity trial, the character of Connie became a beacon for women seeking liberation from social restrictions – and Corrin more than does her justice here.


Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark in Poldark

Find it in Apps & Games > Netflix

Poldark is based on Winston Graham’s 12 series of novels, captured across five series of this brooding period drama. And Aidan Turner (The Hobbit) kept the nation captivated with his sweeping performance of the sultry lead. (The way he handled a scythe also probably helped.) The series begins with Poldark’s return from the American Revolutionary War to find that his old life had been turned upside down. From plot twists to romantic trysts (did we mention the scything?), all against the stunning backdrops of the Cornish coast, it’s a bingeworthy watch from start to finish and it made Turner a huge star.


Florence Pugh as Amy March in Little Women

Find it in Apps & Games > Netflix

Louisa May Alcott’s timeless coming-of-age tale follows the lives of the four March sisters, who all hold different dreams and ambitions. In 19th-century Massachusetts, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy transition from childhood to womanhood in a world that favours strict feminine ideals and wifely duties. Among a superb ensemble cast including Saoirse Ronan (Atonement), Emma Watson (Beauty And The Beast) and Timothée Chalamet (Dune), it was Amy Pugh (Don’t Worry Darling) as the passionate Amy who proved to be the breakout star, scooping numerous awards for her performance.


Freida Pinto as Selina Dalton in Mr Malcolm’s List

Available from Friday 24 March in Sky Cinema on demand

The course of true love never did run smooth, as perfectly captured in Suzanne Allain’s Regency romance set in London. Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) is delightful as Selina Dalton, who is tasked by her childhood friend Julia (Zawe Ashton, The Handmaid’s Tale) with seducing the mysterious Mr Malcolm (Sope Dirisu, Mothering Sunday) in an act of revenge after she was rejected by him. Their foolproof plan soon goes awry, naturally, leaving Pinto’s dreamy chemistry with her co-star Dirisu to take centre stage.


Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility

Find it in Apps & Games > Netflix

Emma Thompson (Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical), Hugh Grant (Notting Hill), Kate Winslet (Titanic) and Alan Rickman (Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves) lead a remarkable ensemble cast in this version of another Jane Austen classic novel. The Dashwood sisters, Elinor (Thompson) and Marianne (Winslet), both yearn for true love but approach the subject in very different ways, leading to conflict and difficulties galore. Thompson’s restrained but ultimately emotional performance will take your breath away.


Jim Broadbent as Prince Nikolai in War And Peace

Find it in Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer

Leo Tolstoy’s literary masterpiece is told through a new lens in this BBC adaption of three young people navigating love, loss and life in Russia, as war wages against their country from Napoleon’s armies. Paul Dano (The Batman), Lily James (Cinderella) and James Norton (Happy Valley) are outstanding as Pierre, Natasha and Andrei, but it’s Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady) who is most memorable as the haunted Prince Nikolai, leaving audiences stunned by his portrayal of grief.


When is BBC One’s Great Expectations on TV?

Great Expectations begins on Sunday 26 March at 9pm on BBC One HD (CH 101). The series’ three episodes will also be available to stream on Apps & Games > BBC iPlayer.

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Image credits: Great Expectations © FX Networks / Pari Dukovic / Miya Mizuno