Gillian Anderson’s Miss Havisham

A onetime queen of Sunday night, when she held court on “The X-Files,” Gillian Anderson returns as an ethereal and effective Miss Havisham on a new adaptation of Dickens’ “Great Expectations” on “Masterpiece Classic” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).

And while she may be the marquee star portraying the mysterious old woman in the adaptation from the people who previously brought “Little Dorit,” she doesn’t appear in the first hour all that much.

So it’s great that the rest of the cast is so strong, from the excellent young Pman playing Pip to the menacing prisoner he shows some kindness towards, Ray Winstone.

The art direction is first rate, and the stark imagery of the countryside emphasized by the light and fog.

Things take a downward turn for next week’s two hour conclusion, in part because of the model chosen to play the older Pip, Douglas Booth, who doesn’t look much like the young one, to a slowdown in action. And yet Anderson’s Miss Havisham keeps returning, her home a shambling wonderland looking even more dilapidated each time.

The film was commissioned in part to note the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth. But Anderson told reporters at press tour she was unfamiliar with the work.

“I hadn’t read the novel before being offered this, and so my decision to do it was based on the adaptation first and foremost,” she said.

Besides, “everybody grows up, even today, with hearing about these characters. They’re referred to so much over time, and I’ve heard Miss Havisham referred to over and over and over again through the years in various ways.”

Something in the depiction of Havisham spoke to her, she said. “Whenever I choose to do something, it’s based on some kind of recognition, and for whatever reason, when I first read the script, how I saw her in my mind’s eye is how you see her in this production.”
Her approach to any character, she says, begins with the voice. “Upon hearing that voice, the work is then about discovering who that is,” she said. “It’s what I hear first in my head and then it kind of moves from there.

“After I hear the voice in my head, I don’t actually speak it out loud until I’m in front of the camera.”

Then it either works or it doesn’t.

It seems to work in “Great Expectations.”

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