Last year, the BBC and FX gave us a macabre three-part retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol from the imagination of one of the UK’s leading screenwriters, Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, See, Taboo). That was just the beginning. A second Dickens adaptation is now on its way from Knight, and judging from the comments of one BBC boss, there’ll be more where that came from.
Dickens’ Great Expectations is next up from the Peaky Blinders creator. Knight is writing and executive-producing a six-episode adaptation of the classic novel for BBC One and FX, to be made by the same UK-US collaboration involving Ridley Scott and Tom Hardy’s production companies.
Published in weekly instalments from December 1860, Great Expectations is famously the story of orphan Pip, who as a child has a pivotal encounter with an escaped prisoner before rising up through society’s ranks. It’s a coming-of-age tale about class and youthful pride, populated with larger-than-life characters including convict Magwitch and the ghostly and bitter Miss Havisham.
The novel has been adapted for screen multiple times, most famously in David Lean’s classic 1946 film adaptation, and as a BBC TV series as recently as 2012, which was written by Sarah Phelps and starred The X-Files‘ Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham.
Knight describes Pip’s story of “class mobility and class intransigence” in the book as “very timely, told through an intensely emotional and personal first person narrative.” As the son of a blacksmith himself – also the occupation of Pip’s kind-hearted brother-in-law Joe Gargery – Knight feels a special connection to the novel.
Casting is yet to be announced, but fans must be crossing their fingers for series executive producer Tom Hardy to take on the role of Magwitch. Dickens’ famously terrifying convict has been previously played by actors including Finlay Currie, Timothy Spall and Ray Winstone – a list to which Hardy’s name would be an excellent addition.
Hardy’s no stranger to Dickens adaptations, having memorably played Bill Sykes opposite Sophie Okonado as Nancy in Sarah Phelps’ excellent 2007 version of Oliver Twist. 13 years on, Magwitch would make a perfect fit.
Director of BBC Content Charlotte Moore describes Great Expectations as “the second in Steven Knight’s series of Dickens adaptations,” suggesting that others are on their way. In addition to mega hit Peaky Blinders, Knight’s recent television work includes the Tom Hardy-starring Taboo, and forthcoming BBC WWII series SAS: Rogue Heroes, based on Ben McIntyre’s best-selling book about the origins of the Special Forces unit.
We’ll bring you news on casting and filming when it arrives, though with the global spread of COVID-19 currently responsible for a halt in production on almost all UK film and television drama productions, the timeframe is impossible to predict. UK government guidelines have indicated that TV and film productions can now re-start as long as workplaces are first made safe, with social distancing measures in place. What that might look like and how it could even be possible is yet to be seen.