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Airing: Sundays, December 19 and 26, 1999
9 to 10:30pm,
(Check local listings)

Two exciting young stars team up with a seasoned cast including Charlotte Rampling and Bernard Hill in this repeat airing of Masterpiece Theatre's Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd (Hornblower, Titanic) stars as Pip, Dickens' hero who goes from rags to riches under the patronage of a secret benefactor. The term "great expectations" refers to prospects of a fabulous inheritance, communicated to Pip by Jaggers, a coldly calculating attorney, on behalf of an unidentified patron. The event transforms Pip from poor orphan, mistreated by his sister and apprenticed to his blacksmith brother-in-law, into a supercilious gentleman-in-training.

The story ranges from the Kent marshes in Southeast England, where Pip grows up and where he encounters Magwitch, a terrifying escaped convict, to bustling, companionable, Dickensian London. Justine Waddell (The Woman in White, Tess of the D'Urbervilles) is Estella, the haughty young woman who beguiles and tantalizes Pip from their tender years into adulthood.

Charlotte Rampling (Farewell My Lovely, The Night Porter) plays Miss Havisham, Estella's deranged guardian, who has hated men ever since her wedding day many years before, when her fiancé failed to show up -- an event she commemorates by living as a recluse in her bridal gown among the decayed ruins of the wedding feast.

Bernard Hill (Titanic) is Magwitch, the convict whom young Pip assists at the start of the story. Dickens fans well know that a desperate character who pops up at the beginning is sure to show up again in a most unexpected context.

Other immortal Dickensian creations spring to life in Masterpiece Theatre's production, including Molly, Jaggers' brutish housekeeper; Wemmick, Jaggers' dual-personality clerk; Mrs. Joe, Pip's neurotic and abusive sister; Joe, her husband, the mild-mannered blacksmith; Biddy, their unkempt angelic servant; and Herbert Pocket, Pip's loyal and guileless friend.

The bizarre and once-beautiful heiress, Miss Havisham, seems to be behind Pip's unexpected legacy. She has mysterious motives possibly connected with a warped match she envisions between Pip and her ward, Estella, whom Miss Havisham has trained to treat all men with contempt.

Although set in the 1800s, producer David Snodin sees the story as being very contemporary: "We've been diligent about getting it historically correct, but what we accentuate is the modernity of the characters. There are people like this in the world today. There are Miss Havishams -- slightly clinically-insane shut-ins who are in deep need of therapy. There are Estellas. There are Magwitches. There are Pips. There are a lot of Pips -- uncertain young men who don't quite know what their lives are about."

Great Expectations is a BBC AMERICA and WGBH Boston coproduction. It was adapted by Tony Marchant from the novel by Charles Dickens. The producer is David Snodin. The director is Julian Jarrold. The executive producers are Michael Wearing for the BBC and Rebecca Eaton for WGBH Boston.

Masterpiece Theatre is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston, where Rebecca Eaton is series executive producer. Pulitzer prize-winning writer Russell Baker is series host. Masterpiece Theatre is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by The Caption Center at WGBH.




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