Gillian Anderson's characterisation of Miss Havisham in the latest television production of Great Expectations has caused some degree of controversy, with many viewers feeling that this beautiful image of a jilted bride is simply too youthful to be an appropriate representation of the woman in the book.

Miss Havisham by Harry Furniss and Break His Heart by H M Brock - two contemporary illustrations from Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations'

However, Dickens never gave an actual age to this wonderful creation whose deliberately sadistic plans for revenge are caused by her own acute pain and loss, having been cruelly jilted on her wedding day.

The VV wonders if our own expectations as to how Miss Havisham should appear are influenced by David Lean's masterpiece when the part was played by Martita Hunt - even though Martita was more or less the same age as Gillian Anderson when she gave her majestic performance in 1946.

Miss Havisham and Pip in David Lean's 1946 film - played by Martita Hunt and John Mills

There have been many others who have played this part over the years - of whom a distinctly stern Florence Reed in 1934 was replaced by the glamorous but menacing Charlotte Rampling in 1999. The VV finds it particularly poignant that the beautiful Jean Simmons who played the young Estella in David Lean's 1946 film went on to perform the part of her 'mother' in a later televised version.

Jean Simmons in 1946 - still, so the VV thinks, the most convincing version of Estella

Jean Simmons playing Miss Havisham in 1989

Now, in 2012, we are soon to be presented with yet another version of the iconic Miss Havisham - this time in the gothic embodiment of Helena Bonham Carter. (Is it just the VV or is there a delicious touch of Bette Davis in 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?' in these publicity stills?) 

Well, what do you think? 

Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham

And finally, as this post concerns modern-day interpretations of a Victorian creation, here is a contemporary poem by Simon Barraclough. Havisham Heart  is one of eleven 'Heart' poems and is and taken from his latest collection, entitled: Neptune Blue -

Havisham Heart

Trouble the dark
and turn me about,
bones under foot.

Orbit the wreck,
the cobwebby sag
of nibbled years

where the mice burrow in
and the spiders rush out,
like the blood used to flow.

Bat dust from the plates,
draw the chair to your place,
take the knife and set to.

For a related post: GREAT EXPECTATIONS ON BBC 1


  1. I haven't seen the Jean Simmons Miss H but her Estella was RAVISHING. She is the REAL Estella to me. I love the idea that she TURNS INTO Miss H! But I reckon HBC might be a good bet. I'd have liked to see someone like...I dunno... Anna Massey? I am not too keen on Gillian A. HBC is a bit more Gothic in herself, if you see what I mean. I look forward to that.

  2. I thought Gillian Anderson was excellent as Miss Havisham, even the photograph at the top of this post conveys an air of detached desperation and pain.

    Obviously it's difficult to gauge how a character will play just from looking at still images, but I think think (again, just from looking at the stills above) that the Helena Bonham Carter version seems to have gone a little 'off-the-scale' with the gothic, but I look forward to seeing it.

  3. My Miss Havisham will always be Martita Hunt. Because the second photograph you post from her Havisham was the one that graced the cover of the Great Expectations that I first read. I have no doubt Gillian Anderson is a very good actress but she just doesn't cut it for me in Dickens dramatisations (not after becoming iconic in The X-Files. An opinion I may have to retract from after having seen her in both Bleak House and Great Expectations.

  4. There was a superb though very critical review by Howard Jacobson that I read somewhere. Must try to find and add a link.