When it comes to Dickens, quite honestly I've never had ' Great Expectations.' Maybe it was the nine hour version of Nicholas Nickelby our class was treated to at school, or all those lawyers in Dombey and Son, or else the guarantee that someone, at some point, was going to die of tuberculosis; but I've always preferred my bonnets trimmed with the romance and wit of Austen. I mean, how can you voluntarily pick up a novel called Hard Times?
However, the recent BBC version of Great Expectations was the sleeper hit of Christmas TV. I haven't felt such compulsion to be in front of a telly for a period drama since the 1990s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth's Mr Darcy got his frilly shirt wet. The debate over the extreme prettiness of Douglas Booth, the actor who plays Pip, or if Gillian Anderson was too young to play Miss Haversham, (now that's an argument you don't hear about an actress that often) made it to the tabloids; and everyone who's seen it has an opinion.
Personally, I think it doesn't matter if Douglas Booth was more beautiful than Vanessa Kirby, who plays Estella, or if Gillian Anderson's face doesn't yet look like a roadmap. I don't believe either actor was hired for the headlines. Anderson brings a little-girlishness to the frozen-in-time Miss Haversham I haven't seen before; Booth's beauty is only a backdrop to Pip's naivety. And although Ray Winstone plays a criminal as usual, at least Abel Magwitch is one of the best.
What's most exciting though, is the idea of the author resonating with a modern crowd as we celebrate the bicentennary of his birth. Charles Dickens, as will be well documented, might have been lacking in 'family man' qualities, but he was a dedicated journalist with a lifelong passion for social action.There is a reason why we still refer to appalling squalor as 'Dickensian'; no other author has done as much to highlight the conditions the poor endured.
Endured - or endures? He does not seem 200 years removed from us at this particular point in time. In Greece, according to the Guardian, economic hardship means families are even having to give up their children to social institutions in order to be fed. Dickens scourged the rich - be it businessmen like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol or lawyers (in nearly all his novels) who had no regard for those less fortunate than themselves. Change the nouns to 'bankers' - and here were are in 2012.
Having watched (yet again) the brilliant The Muppets Christmas Carol we can see Scrooge's story through the joy of his redemption, Dickens had a very real hell in mind for those who ignored the needy. Those too, like Pip, who advanced beyond their initial position in life, forgetting those who've cared for them,suffer for it (just take warning, TOWIE cast, your sunbed plenty may yet come to an end.)
Over and over again, Dickens reinforces the love available at home, and with family - whoever that is. Who didn't well up when Pip's neglected brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, embraces him in complete forgiveness? Maybe in our own Hard Times, we're discovering this.