First of all, I have to commend the BBC’s fantastic adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I have not yet read the book, so I cannot compare the two, but I thought it was fantastic in every way - casting, acting, effects… - and it has certainly made me want to read the novel.
But this post has to be on Miss Havisham and, X-Files star, Gillian Anderson’s portrayal.
I thought at first that she was far too attractive to play Miss Havisham, but I think that her looks actually added to her character. The villain, or the mentally unstable character in a book or a film is always unattractive, possibly even afflicted with a disability (Scar in The Lion King, Mrs Danvers in Rebecca, any Bond villain) - you just expect it. You do not expect someone beautiful, who you therefore assume has everything going for them, to suffer a mental breakdown like Miss Havisham so clearly has. So, when you see Anderson playing her, it makes her plight even more shocking - like when a famous person dies and you find yourself thinking “But he can’t be dead!”, you think “But she doesn’t look like she would be insane!”
Continuing with the casting choice, I thought Anderson acted the role beautifully. She played her as a victim, a mentally unstable woman who could verge on villainious at times, but generally was someone you sympathised with. Well, I did at least. The distant look in her eyes, the soft, monotonous tone of her voice, her dillusion and the fact that she was STILL wearing that wedding dress meant you didn’t know whether to fear her or pity her. I think both is appropriate.
But by the end of the third episode, I genuinely felt deeply sorry for her. She had been completely in love with Compeyson, only to learn that he had left her at the altar, so to speak, and defrauded her. The fact that she has the clocks stopped at the exact time she learnt of her betrayal is heartbreaking. I don’t see her as a bad person, just an extremely broken one, who wants to hurt someone like she was hurt, who wants happiness but no longer understands how to get it.
I found her to be very much like Mrs Danvers in du Maurier’s Rebecca - the way she spoke, that slight madness, the obsessiveness (Danny kept Rebecca’s room exactly as it was, while Miss H. kept the hall and the wedding cake ready for the reception that never happened), and wonder if inspiration was drawn from Dickens’ character. Mrs Danvers happens to be my all-time favourite character, so liking Miss Havisham came easily. They have both been hurt by love in some way or another, something they have never been able to get over, and Mrs Danvers burns down Manderley (go girl!) while Miss Havisham’s dress catches on fire - deliberately in this BBC adaptation. I think Miss Havisham’s death is the way that Mrs Danvers would have chosen to go had the drive for revenge not been so strong.
Miss Havisham’s final scenes, again fantastically acted by Anderson, moved me to tears. It was tragic watching her dress herself in her veil and bridal band, and carrying her love letters and dead flowers was both powerful and heart-breaking. You could almost feel her pain. When you love someone that much, only to be hurt by them, who is to say you wouldn’t react in the same way in the end? I found myself in floods of tears as her dress caught fire and she gripped the fireplace in front of her, and just allowed the flames to consume her. It was an appropriate ending for her, the way I think she wanted to go. Though I did find the shot of her completely engulfed in flames quite graphic and disturbing - watch the complaints flood in!
All in all, Gillian Anderson was utterly phenomenal as the tortured Miss Havisham, and I have a new favourite character to live happily in my head with the equally tormented Mrs Danvers. Go, BBC!