Great Expectations (episode 2): I know thee not old man (and possibly old woman)

I look nothing like Hercule Poirot, okay?

So Pip is off to a strangely smoke- and horseshit-free London to claim his fortune. For us this affords the pleasure of a closer look at David Suchet’s Mr Jaggers. An expert turn this, from an old trooper. Not only do we get the cold efficiency of a man whose skills are completely dedicated to Mammon, but also the merest hint of exasperation at the fecklessness of the young bucks for whom he has responsibility. One feels quite sorry for him really, especially as Pip immediately sets out on the predictable trajectory of a lad with more money than sense.

New furniture, tailored clothes, fine wines, an effete accent and squiggly handwriting: it seems that the nouveau-flush Pip doesn’t want to deny himself any indulgence. The only thing he doesn’t seem to have is a moral compass, a feature accentuated by the contrast with Herbert Pocket, his guide to the world of the gentry, who has given up money for love. Joe Gargery arriving at Pip’s gentleman’s club like the ghost of plebs past provokes mortification. As I said yesterday Joe is played by Shaun Dooley with a harder edge than in many other versions and this sharpens the chill in his relations with Pip. Rather than a confused buffoon we get a man with pride and integrity who loves Pip and is heartbroken by his slide into dilettantism. Still, with Pip’s post-Twilight looks I’m not sure how Joe could ever have thought he was blacksmith material.

How can Estella not want to kiss these lips?

Pip’s guilt is temporary though and he’s soon back to the serious business of chasing Estella. He’s going well for a while there too: lots of meaningful looks, squiring her to balls and paddling in ornamental lakes. All the things BBC costume drama does best in fact. The idyll is spoiled by the arrival of upper class thug Bentley Drummle (played terrifyingly by Tom Burke) to give Pip a lesson in the hasher realities of being posh. You know the drill: “everything can be bought and sold and here is a scene in a brothel to provide some heavy-handed symbolism.” Drummle also serves to remind Estella what a cold-hearted bitch she’s supposed to be, providing a shock of Miss Havisham who is a recipient of her magnificently cold shoulder. As Estella reasonably points out she is only what she’s been  trained to be, and Miss H’s old wedding dress is so manky  by this stage I’m surprised Estella can stand being in the same county.

Finally, Pip’s conscience begins to prick him. While he doesn’t stick around for his sister’s wake (though she was a cow so why should he?) he does secretly help Herbert acquire a situation (in Dickensian parlance), and befriends Wemmick, Jagger’s clerk. A bit of a disappointment that there hasn’t been a look at Wemmick’s Walworth pad so far. “The Castle” as Dickens terms chez Wemmick is probably my favourite bit of the book and I have my fingers crossed it turns up tonight.

So Pip is doing a bit better as he comes of age but the celebrations don’t go quite as planned. Instead of a hearty breakfast and a visit to Miss H for his inheritance, he has Magwitch sneaking into his bachelor pad to scare him out of his wits again. Neither a sack of fivers nor the news that he, Magwitch, is Pip’s benefactor do anything to make it better. And he thought Joe was embarrassing! Something tells me this isn’t going to be a comfortable association for a young man of Great Expectations.

Posted by Dr Crane.  Catch this episode here.

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