I’ve often stated my dislike of the writings of Charles Dickens, and at Frock Flicks we’ve long noted that the period when his works are mostly set, about 1830s to 1860s, is the death of fashion. Yet a bunch of you have been clamoring for a review of the latest TV miniseries adaption of Great Expectations (2023). So I tried to take one for the team, but I cannot say it was worth it nor did I get very far! Especially when I realized it was 100 episodes long (OK, maybe six, but that’s waaaay too many) and the entire first episode was a dark, dirty, muddy mess all about Magwitch being murdery and Pip being moody. If not for this blog, I’d have dropped it after 20 minutes.
Yeah, yeah, Olivia Colman is a great idea as Miss Havisham, and that character is the only redeeming part of this novel IMO. Also, it’s nice to see Matt Berry in another frock flick. But this production is the epitome of the “gritty reboot” that nobody asked for, replete with gratuitous violence. It’s dreary as all hell to watch. Except for the random masochistic sex and all the opium smoking, which is just weird (I don’t remember that in my literature classes).
Costume-wise, I’m not entirely sure what year this is supposed to be set in. The poorer characters wear generically Victorian stuff. At first, in the dark gloom, I thought Miss Havisham’s wedding dress was 1830s with huge puffed sleeves, but in screencapping, I found it’s late 1820s. The sleeve heads could have big puffs then (a precursor to the 1830s bigger sleeve), and I could see that the waistline was higher and the skirt slimmer.
In an interview with IndieWire, costume designer Verity Hawkes had this explanation for Miss Havisham’s costume:
“I knew I wanted to have all of the Chinese symbols because her family made their money from the opium trade. So her headdress is a Chinese wedding headdress. The veil and the train have Chinese motifs of birds and flowers. Down the front of her dress is a copy of a Chinese silk panel that we had fabulous craftspeople making all the embroidery. It’s all different weights of silk and the netting is very fine silk — although it looks very different by the time it had gone through all the breakdown processes.”
I’m rolling my eyes a bit at the link with the opium trade. In the book, her father was a prosperous brewer who left her property with valuable rents.
Then we see young Estella’s costumes that are also kind of 1820s with spencer jackets over a slim-ish dresses.
Hawkes implied in that same interview that Miss Havisham shares her older clothes with Estella, and said:
“I wanted [Estella and Miss Havisham] to have a ‘Grey Gardens‘ feel about them. They’re these isolated women with their own worldview. Her and Estella share the clothes, and all sorts of things.”
I guess the story is supposedly set in the 1840s, Miss Havisham’s wedding would have taken place 15 to 20 years ago, and she’s given Estella her own clothes from before that? Wtfrock, ppl? Talk about over-complicating things.
Hawkes also said to IndieWire, “I wanted to push it slightly and not do museum pieces.” Maybe that’s her explanation for the following…
When Pip turns 18 (and the actors for Pip and Estella change to Fionn Whitehead and Shalom Brune-Franklin), Estella’s dress becomes this pink monstrosity.
She also shows up like this, which I can’t tell if it’s the ruffle dress with a filthy robe over it or what.
For a practice ball at Miss Havisham’s house, Estella wears this ballgown that’s a modernized take on 1830s-ish. The puffed sleeves of the 1830s have become these giant roses, which, fine, it’s an interesting idea and if there seemed to be some unifying overall design vision or this reflected something important about the character, I might buy it. Except it just seems random here! It wouldn’t be an “old” dress of Miss Havisham’s, and the sleeves are too big for the 1840s. Plus, that’s a sorry attempt at fan-front pleating that was super popular during the 1840s, or maybe it’s meant to be a half-assed reference? IDK.
When Estella tells Pip his education is complete, she’s in this orange renfaire outfit that makes even less sense.
I’m not even going to address the modern stretch lace glove situation here. These costumes aren’t interesting enough to make up for the tedious mud-and-blood take on Dickens.
Could any of you stand more than three episodes of this Great Expectations? Why or why not?