‘Great Expectations’ reviews round-up: ‘Irredeemably awful’ despite ‘stellar performances’

The new adaptation of Great Expectations premieres this weekend and the first reviews are in!

Adapted from Charles Dickens’ thirteenth novel by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, the six-part series stars Olivia Colman (The Crown) as the iconic Miss Havisham.

She’s joined by Dunkirk actor Fionn Whitehead as Pip, alongside Ashley Thomas (The Ipcress File), Johnny Harris (Medici), Shalom Brune-Franklin (The Tourist), Hayley Squires (Call the Midwife), and Matt Berry (What We Do in the Shadows).

The reviews are a mixed bag, with some critics enjoying this darker interpretation of the story, while it’s safe to say that the Evening Standard‘s writer was not a huge fan!

Watch the trailer here:

The official synopsis reads: “Great Expectations is the coming-of-age story of Pip (Fionn Whitehead), an orphan who yearns for a greater lot in life until a twist of fate introduces him to the mysterious and eccentric Miss Havisham (Colman) and Estella (Shalom Brune-Franklin), showing him a dark world of possibilities.

“Under the great expectations placed upon him, Pip will have to work out the cost of this new world and whether it will truly make him the man he wishes to be.”

Great Expectations premieres on Sunday night on BBC One and streaming on BBC iPlayer in the UK, and on Hulu in the US.

We’ve rounded up a spoiler-free selection of reviews to help you decide if you’d like to watch the series:


“The desire to sex up Victoriana is predictable and lazy, and demonstrates an odd lack of imagination.” ★★ – The Independent


“Charles Dickens is given a grimy, macho, very Peaky makeover … It isn’t instantly clear why the BBC has made yet another adaptation of the great novel, but at least Steven Knight gives it a fresh twist.” ★★★ – The Telegraph


“FX’s sinister Great Expectations adaptation makes Charles Dickens feel new again … Steven Knight’s dark and haunting approach serves the oft-interpreted story well.

“In fact, one could argue that instead of reimagining Dickens, Knight is actually correcting how modern audiences understand him. The passage of time seems to have softened the true meaning behind the author’s work.” – Prime Timer


“Where this adaptation of Great Expectations succeeds is with its stellar performances. Olivia Colman naturally chews up every scene as the eternal bride Miss Havisham…

“Where this version of Great Expectations falters is in its pacing and length. The story at times feels like it moves at a snail’s pace, which may satisfy diehard fans of the source material, but feels somewhat alienating to a modern TV audience. The tone is also dark and heavy … In this case, it’s likely a disappointment to readers of the novel, which is heralded as one of Dickens’ funniest.” ★★★ – Laughing Place


“Despite 12 previous screen adaptations, Knight still manages to find some shiny new spokes to add to this reinvented wheel — starting with the casting. Embracing the direction of modern period-drama casting choices, Knight leans into the realisation that London during the Victorian era was more ethnically diverse than traditionally reflected in other Great Expectations adaptations…

“Still, Great Expectations lacks the excitement needed to drive the plot forward — robbing this beautiful, atmospheric watch of the meaty substance needed to intrigue viewers at the same level of intensity.” ★★ – Digital Spy


“In truth, there is no period drama that is likely to re-invent the wheel, but at least this joint production between FX Networks and the BBC has the courage of its convictions.” – Yahoo! Life


“Even Olivia Colman can’t save this irredeemably awful series … I can’t think of an adaptation I’ve hated more, unless it be the last BBC adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which, come to think of it, is also the work of Stephen Knight.” ★ – Evening Standard


Great Expectations has an electric Olivia Colman, but not enough else … Written by Steven Knight and co-produced by the BBC and FX, this Great Expectations is dimly lit and grimly violent, with the chaos and sudden bursts of enmity of Dickensian England brought to the fore. But only Miss Havisham pops off the screen, making this an adaptation lacking in a certain balance.

“In all, Dickens devotees will find things to admire in this series (and much to discuss given certain changes from the text), but it may prove tough going for general viewers.” – Variety


Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations is available on Amazon.