We get a very poetic opening, with a chrysalis opening into a butterfly…underwater, on lace, so…ok. Also, it seems Ray Winstone’s the more important cast member here, since he’s listed even before Gillian Anderson. I have no problem with that—I kind of love Ray Winstone. Did you know he used to be a professional boxer before he became an actor? No wonder he looks like he could kick every ass in the room.
A man breaks through the surface of some swampy, offshore area. It’s misty and kind of miserable out, but all the same there’s a little boy visiting and weeding the grave of his parents. This is Pip, our hero, or, at least, our leading man.
Swamp Man drags himself to shore as bells start frantically ringing on the ships anchored just offshore. Pip hears the bells and decides it’s time to get the heck out of there. He starts to run, knowing this means a convict has escaped, but then Swamp Man catches him, holds him down and threatens to cut his throat if he screams. He asks if anyone’s with him and Pip says he’s alone. Furthermore, he tells SM his parents are dead and he lives with his sister and her husband, the blacksmith Joe Gargery. That suits SM (Abel Magwitch to those who know the story) pretty well and he tells Pip to go steal some of Joe’s tools so he can rid himself of his shackles. He promises to have Pip killed if he breathes a word of Magwitch’s whereabouts. Pip runs off and Magwitch sinks back down into the mud.
Back home, Joe’s hard at work a-blacksmithin’ when Pip shows up and eyes the tools. Joe’s all nice to Pip, in stark contrast to his total harpy of a wife, who bitches and moans about Pip getting dirty and visiting their parents’ graves instead of working. Yeah, she’s a peach. And why someone as mild-mannered as Joe ever married her is a complete and utter mystery, in the book and in its adaptations. Once she storms off and Joe goes back to his work, Pip takes a moment to slip a file under his jacket before going inside.
In the house, sister’s sucking up to some uncle and slapping Pip around. Uncle says he has news: Miss Havisham of Satis House wants a little boy to start swinging by. Sister is beside herself at the thought of the local rich crazy lady possibly taking a liking to her little brother. She’s practically overjoyed at the thought, because she’s awful. That’s all you need to know about her.
Pip slips out of the house with the file and sees some muddied, creepy looking guy get up from the marshes who he figures is Magwitch’s companion. He promises he didn’t breathe a word but runs away, being sensible, even as the man screams at him to come back. Magwitch is still under the bridge where he first caught Pip, and when the kid shows up, he quickly goes to work with the file. As he works to get the shackles off, Pip offers him some food he pilfered from the pantry. Magwitch stares at it, unable to believe that this kid is actually being kind to him. He takes it and eats it in one bite as Pip watches in half disgust, half fascination. Pip mentions the guy he saw in the marshes and Magwitch starts to get nervous and asks where the guy was. I don’t think that guy’s going to last much longer. Magwitch tells Pip he can go and Pip books it down the street, running into Joe’s older, thuggish apprentice along the way. Thug says there’ll be a manhunt that day, and won’t that be fun? His own fun is interrupted when Joe shows up, all worried that Pip was missing when there’s a convict escaped. Pip says he lost his scarf and apologizes profusely for what he’s done. Joe embraces him tightly and says it’s fine, scarves get lost, you know. Pip’s face implodes with guilt as it’s pressed against Joe’s chest.
Magwitch finally manages to get the manacles off—and you really have to give the guy credit for being able to escape and swim to shore with manacled feet. Thus freed, he goes in search of that other guy, who’s slogging through some swamp that must be a low-tide area. Manacles in hand, Magwitch finds him and launches himself on him. They wrestle in the slippery, sucking mud for a while, and then Magwitch gets the manacles around the man’s neck and presses him into the mud, strangling/suffocating him until soldiers arrive to capture them.
Back at the blacksmith’s cottage, Sister’s asking about Miss Havisham, who’s sort of the local mystery. Even Uncle didn’t see her. Joe cares enough to ask why some old lady wants a little boy to keep her company but Sister doesn’t care. And then she smacks poor Pip in the side of the head because he’s so guilt ridden he can’t eat. Joe tries to intervene, reminding her it’s Christmas, but Uncle’s got the family mean streak and says Christmas is the perfect time to beat a boy. Man, what were holidays like in these families’ homes? Joe’s still not sure about this plan but Sister’s all starry eyed about all the things her brother being buds with Havisham could do for her. She yells and pounds the table, then calms down creepily and tells her uncle she made him a special treat—a mutton pie. Which Pip stole a slice of to give to Magwitch.
The pie is produced, missing its slice, and she starts to go completely apeshit, but Joe finds his balls at last and holds her back. Fortunately, the soldiers come pounding on the door with Magwitch in custody to ask Joe to fix the shackles. The constable or whatever asks Magwitch who helped him get the file and Magwitch looks right at Pip as he says he had no help—he stole the file. The new shackles are put on, and it’s pretty awful, because it involves pouring molten metal on the joins, which are definitely felt in the flesh below (oh, and those who are interested—looks like Magwitch didn’t manage to kill that other guy—he’s standing just behind him, so I guess he’s with the soldiers). Between moans of pain, Magwitch fesses up to stealing the pie, for good measure, teaching Pip the important lesson that good deeds can be repaid in kind, even by bad guys. Joe’s so nice, he doesn’t even begrudge the guy some pie. The constable tries to pay Joe, but this isn’t business Joe enjoys, so he turns it down. Fortunately, Mrs. Joe isn’t around to see that, because I think her head would explode.
Some days later, Uncle drives Pip to Satis House, giving him some last-minute pointers. The place is grand but unkempt. Pip spots a girl in an upper-floor window, but she quickly disappears. A surly housemaid opens the front door and takes Pip in, sending Uncle on his way, rudely. The inside of the house is even gloomier than outside, decorated with fossilized floral arrangements and clocks stopped at 11 a.m. Pip’s told to wait at the bottom of the stairs, and after a moment, a slender woman in a white gown appears, speaking, for some reason, in a whispery Shirley Henderson voice that’s going to get really old and annoying really fast. She correctly identifies him as Pip from the Forge and tells him to call her Miss Havisham. She comes down the stairs and circles him, then leads him to a nearby room, which appears to be a sitting room of some kind. They’ve done a great job of making her look like someone who hasn’t seen the sun in 20 some years—she’s as pale as ice, with white hair curled and styled. She urges him to look around at the objects on display and tells Pip it’s her brother’s collection. He traveled all over, looking for beautiful things to kill and display. But he’s dead now, of cholera, in the tropics. She thinks that’s pretty karmic, then brings attention to a girl maybe a year or two older than Pip who has appeared in the doorway.
This, of course, is Estella, Havisham’s adopted daughter. Havisham introduces Pip, who’s clearly already taken with Estella, and then the two kids sit at a card table and start to play at cards, at Havisham’s request. Pip’s fumbling and awkward and he doesn’t know the game. Estella starts to deal, sniffing when she hears that Pip hopes to become a blacksmith someday, like Joe. Havisham urges him not to plan too carefully, because many things can happen in the future. She asks after Pip’s family and corrects his grammar as he tells her about his sister. He reveals he was once one of five kids and she asks if he ever wondered why he was chosen to live—perhaps he was destined for something special. She certainly seems to think so. And with that, she dismisses him and tells him to come back next week.
Pip reports back about the adopted daughter, and Sister’s sure this is a future set-up, even though the kids are, like, 11 and 12. Joe’s not at all on board with the idea of his nephew becoming a gentleman, because he was planning to be a smith. Sister pooh-poohs that, because she’s thoughtless and hateful and always thought she was meant for more. Jesus, they laid it on thick with this lady. So did Dickens, to be fair. Once she and Joe take off to take care of things, Uncle tries to pump Pip for more info on Havisham herself, but Pip won’t talk, so Uncle smacks him on the ear. What a family.
Later, Joe tells Pip he doesn’t have to go back again if he doesn’t want to. He’ll even take the brunt of his wife’s wrath, if necessary. Pip says he wants to go back, so Joe urges him to be friendly to Estella. Pip asks Joe if he knows any card games and Joe tells him he knows a few.
Pip’s back at Satis House, being given a lecture by the maid, who warns him not to breathe a word of what he sees in the House of Crazy to anyone else in the village. He shrugs and says it’s nobody’s business. She agrees and goes off to fetch Havisham. While she’s gone, Pip explores the nearby dining room, which is set and decorated for a magnificent feast that’s deteriorated in the creepiest manner possible. He turns and sees Havisham standing beside him. He apologizes and she shrugs it off. She asks him what he thinks this is and he identifies a wedding cake. She says it’s the ghost of a wedding cake, just as she’s the ghost of a bride. Then she sends him off to play with Estella.
Pip’s clearly been using his time with Joe well, because he’s kicking Estella’s ass at their game. She tries to make fun of him for calling the knaves jacks and Havisham says he can call them what he wants, because he’s winning. Heh. Pip wins another hand and Havisham urges her daughter to concentrate. Pip is dismissed again, but before he goes, Havisham grabs his arm and creepily urges him to love Estella, for her sake.
Outside the room, Estella asks why he kept smiling at her. He says he was trying to be friendly. She asks if he thinks she’s pretty and wants to kiss her. She offers her cheek, but then tells him he’s filthy and uncouth and there’s no reason why she’d want to be friends with him. He kindly says he thought she was lonely, which gets him a wicked slap from the girl who clearly went to his sister’s School of Bitchery. “Smile now,” she smarms as Pip struggles to hold back tears. She revels in her power to make him cry, which gets his back up. He tells her she’ll never make him cry as he stalks out of the house.
Before going back to the house, he gives himself a makeover, shining his shoes, even cleaning his nails. During their next playdate, he pages through an atlas while Estella plays piano. Havisham asks if he has books at home and he admits he doesn’t, which she finds strange, but then figures “his people” don’t have time for the wonders of the world. His time at Satis House is starting to wear off—even his sister notices he’s picking up better table manners, and Havisham says his eyes have been opened and he can’t close them now. The two of them admire Estella from afar and Havisham asks Pip if she’s still a beauty, as she used to be. Without looking at her, Pip says she is. She’s totally not. But Estella doesn’t seem to like their tête-a-tête and slams the piano cover down to catch their attention.
Pip takes the atlas home and is looking at it out in the meadows near the house. The hateful apprentice—Orlick, I think—comes over to taunt him for a bit but is chased off by the sister.
Pip reports to Satis House to find the housemaid arguing with a man and, I suppose, his wife, who are trying to get in to see Havisham. It seems these two are relatives who want to gain some access, but housemaid ain’t having it. Pip parades right past them and up the stairs. At the top of the stairs he runs into David Suchet, who’s put all his Poirot charm aside to play Jaggers the lawyer, who’s humorless and a bit creepy. Jaggers tells the relatives Havisham won’t see them.
Estella leads Pip into Havisham’s dressing room, where she’s perched on a chair, trembling and asking if the Pockets are still there. He says there are some people downstairs. She weepily says they come every year on this day, pretending to be concerned, but she’s sure they’re there to gloat. She’s got some nervous tic of scratching the back of one hand that’s raised some seriously nasty blisters. She says they’re really just waiting to get their inheritance, and then she has a total breakdown and tells Pip he’ll have to go, because she can’t have him there today. She shrieks, hysterical, while Estella watches, impassive. Clearly, she’s seen all this before.
Outside, Pip runs into Pocket Jr., who confronts him and demands he explain himself. He says he’s a little gentleman and can do as he pleases, as he pokes Pip with some walking stick, and Pip punches him right in the face as Estella watches and giggles. Once the Pockets are gone, Estella comes out and notices blood on Pip’s hand. This all makes her freakishly happy, and she kisses Pip on the cheek for “Making something happen.”
A letter arrives at the forge, addressed to Joe, but of course Sister hands it right over to Uncle to read. It’s an invitation for Joe and Pip to visit Havisham that Sunday to discuss the matter of Pip’s future. Sister’s so elated she actually tells Pip she’s proud of him, and Pip smiles happily.
Orlick shows up at the house with some rabbits for Joe, but Sister says they don’t want them, and she takes them and throws them out into the meadow, foolishly telling him that soon they’ll be able to afford the best butcher’s meat. Lady, don’t turn down a good rabbit, even if you can afford beef. Rabbit’s some good stuff. She tells him to hit the road and Orlick tells her she deserves a hell of a slap, and while I don’t condone domestic violence, I can’t help but agree. She tells him she’ll be tattling to Joe when he gets back, and Orlick will be out of a job. She seems to take a particular glee in telling him that, and furthermore tosses a pail of dirty water over his feet.
Joe and Pip present themselves to Havisham, who invites them to sit. She thanks Joe for sending Pip every week and says she’d like to make them a gift in return for his time. Her gift: paying for Pip’s apprenticeship to Joe. Pip’s face collapses completely, though Joe looks relieved. She has the papers prepared that’ll bind Pip to Joe for seven years. She hands the pen to Joe, who, with some difficulty, signs his name (as just Jo). And then it’s Pip’s turn, and he obediently signs and watches as Havisham rolls up the paperwork, ties it with a bow, and bids them both goodbye, telling Pip there’s no need for him to come back.
After they’re gone, Havisham joins Estella in the dining room, warning her that she hasn’t learned to control her passions, and she’s too unruly, so they need to start their creepy lessons all over again, so Estella learns that beauty must be destroyed and love is death.
On their walk home, Joe says he knows Pip was sweet on the girl, but it could never happen, so it’s best this way. They arrive at the house and find Sister unconscious and bloodied on the floor.
Later, Orlick approaches Joe and asks who would do such a thing. Joe figures it was thieves, but who knows? The only person who could say is going to be mute the rest of her life. Well, there’s karma for you. Joe beats himself up for leaving her alone and Orlick acts all helpful, telling him to go look after his wife while he looks after the forge. Pip goes to join him, and Orlick lays out the way it’ll be: Joe, Orlick, Pip, like Pip probably didn’t know that already.
Some years pass, and we finally get our hot new lead, played by Douglas Booth, who gets a sudden letter from Havisham, asking him to visit her. He does, of course, and she stupidly observes that he’s grown. Seven years will do that, lady. She asks after his apprenticeship and tells him Estella was very eager to see him again. She calls Estella down, and the young lady herself appears. Havisham says Estella will be going to Paris soon, for finishing school. Pip asks when she’s coming back and she says she won’t be living there again. Havisham explains she’ll be going to London to make a very great marriage. At Havisham’s prompting, Pip admits that Estella is quite lovely. Having gotten the validation she wanted, Havisham bids him good day. When he’s gone, Havisham calls Estella her jewel, and her prize before going upstairs. I’m not so sure—she’s not quite as exquisitely lovely as I always imagined Estella to be. Maybe it’s the hair that’s throwing me—that’s not her hairstyle. It’s just all crinkly and piled on her head willy-nilly, which is not how it would have been, historically.
Outside the gates of the house, Estella catches up with Pip and warns him never to return, even if Havisham begs, because it won’t work out well for him. Thinking back about it, Pip later has to give himself a cold shower. Seriously.
Things aren’t going so well at the forge. Joe can’t afford to keep Orlick on and pay for medical care for his wife, so he has to let Orlick go, as gently as he can. Still, it doesn’t seem to make Orlick feel any better.
Later, Jaggers drives up in a very grand carriage, accompanied by Uncle, and asks Pip to go inside and meet with him. Pip and Joe put their blacksmithing aside and go in, where Jaggers tells Pip that he’s acting on behalf of a client, who’s decided to become Pip’s benefactor and bestowed on him quite a decent property. The client wants Pip to head to London immediately and be trained up to be a gentleman and to live as a young fellow of Great Expectations. He’s prohibited from ever trying to figure out who his benefactor is; that person will reveal themselves when Pip reaches his majority. Jaggers hands over some cash for immediate expenses and his card, along with instructions to report to him immediately in London.
Pip, now all fancied up, goes to visit Havisham, who’s astonished by his news. She says she’ll have to write Estella and tell her all about it. She also tells him to get a better tailor when he’s in London. Pip promises not to let her down, and she wishes him luck.
Back at the forge, Pip bids his sister goodbye, shakes Uncle’s hand and manages not to punch him in the face; then he goes out to say goodbye to Joe, who’s depressed by all this. Pip asks him to be happy, because this must mean Havisham means him for Estella. Inside, Uncle relishes that Pip’s been raised up, just as they hoped, too late for Sister, but not too late for Uncle. As the carriage pulls away, Joe calls after Pip not to forget about them.