My granny, who left school when she was 13, thought Charles Dickens was “the greatest storyteller who ever lived”, says Rachel Cooke in The New Statesman. Since she was blind, she would listen to his stories on huge tapes in a chair by the fire, utterly rapt, as if it might be “physically possible for her to enter the narrative if only she could lean forward far enough”. But Steven Knight’s “crass, sexed-up version” of Great Expectations strips Dickens’s storytelling of all this magic. In fact, it’s “so bad it should be illegal”. The ridiculous changes he has made to character and plot are no better than scrawling with a “magic marker on a Rembrandt”.
Knight “fillets the book of all its tenderness and humour”, then sets about his “ghastly, prurient embellishments”, fiddling with everything save for Magwitch’s beard. Mr Jaggers, previously a “hard but honest lawyer”, is now a man who blackmails a judge by threatening to reveal he is a “sodomite”. Mr Pumblechook, Pip’s “pompous great-uncle”, is now a “sexual masochist” who pays Mrs Gargery to “thrash his bare behind”. And Miss Havisham, who remains a “desiccated spinster”, is now also inexplicably a “pervert and an opium addict”. It’s as if Dickens’s novel, for all its wondrousness, is somehow not dramatic enough. And the sad result is that for the first time in my life, “I don’t care what happens to poor old Pip” – which will at least “spare me the usual bucketload of tears”.