Skip to main content

'Great Expectations' with Olivia Colman: cast, who's who, and all about the new Charles Dickens' adaptation

'Great Expectations' on BBC1 and FX will star Olivia Colman, Fionn Whitehead, Owen McDonnell and Ashley Thomas.
'Great Expectations' on BBC1 and FX will star Olivia Colman, Fionn Whitehead, Owen McDonnell and Ashley Thomas. (Image credit: BBC)

Great Expectations has been adapted for TV and cinema many times, so we're all pretty familiar with the story of Pip, Magwitch, Jaggers, Estella and Miss Havisham. 

Now Steven Knight, the writer, and creator of Peaky Blinders has given the classic Charles Dickens' novel his own twist for a new drama coming to BBC1 in the UK and FX in the US, and he's got Olivia Colman on board as the world's most famous widow Miss Havisham.

Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead is playing the iconic lead role of Pip. Top Boy actor Ashley Thomas will play lawyer Jaggers while Johnny Harris, star of The Salisbury Poisonings, will play escaped convict and Pip’s benefactor Magwitch.

This is the second Dickens' novel to be made into a series by BAFTA-winning writer Steven Knight as he brought us BBC1's 2019 series A Christmas Carol, starring Guy Pearce, Andy Serkis and Stephen Graham, but it won’t be the last as there are more in the pipeline.

So here's everything you need to know about this new BBC1 and FX adaptation of Great Expectations...

'Great Expectations' release date

An air date for Great Expectations hasn't been announced, but it will be coming to BBC1 in the UK and FX in the US. As the previous Steven Knight adaptation of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, with Guy Pearce as Scrooge, was shown over the festive period in 2019 it's a good bet that his Great Expectations could be shown during Christmas 2022. We will of course update with the worldwide release dates when we hear.

‘Great Expectations’ plot

Charles Dickens' famous novel Great Expectations tells the tale of orphan Pip who lives with his mean sister Mrs Joe and her kindly blacksmith husband Joe. One day Pip meets escaped convict Magwitch, who scares Pip into stealing food and a metal file for him. The following day the convict is captured but takes the blame for the theft, sparing Pip from punishment. A few years later Pip visits wealthy Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella at the dilapidated Satis House. Miss Havisham was jilted at the alter 20 years earlier and is raising Estella to break men’s hearts as her revenge. Pip falls in love with Estella and then discovers he has a wealthy benefactor and himself becomes a gentleman. Estella marries another man but the novel then explores the themes of regret, forgiveness, and redemption.  

'Great Expectations' cast — Olivia Colman as Miss Havisham 

Taking on the iconic Great Expectations role of melancholic Miss Havisham should come easily to Olivia Colman as she’s used to playing flawed characters. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Anne in the 2018 film The Favourite and last year played troubled mother Leda in The Lost Daughter on Netflix. She’s also appeared in hit series such as Beautiful People, The Green Wing, Fleabag, and Twenty Twelve and played detective Ellie Miller in Broadchurch

BAck in 2019 she was Madame Thénardier in the BBC1 adaptation of Les Misérables as she took on the role of Queen Elizabeth II in seasons 3 and 4 of The Crown on Netflix. Recently she starred in Sky drama Landscapers and is due to star in next year’s movie Wonka, about Roald Dahl’s famous character.

Olivia Colman

What will Olivia Colman's Miss Havisham be like in 'Great Expectations'? (Image credit: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Who else is starring?

There's a long cast list of wonderful actors in Great Expectations. Fionn Whitehead plays Pip this time. He had lead roles in both the movie Dunkirk and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. He’s also been in the TV series Him, Voyagers and The Children Act

Johnny Harris plays escaped convict Magwitch. He’s no stranger to Dickens as he played Franklin Scrooge in the 2019 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. He’s also appeared in The Salisbury Poisonings, This is England, Whitechapel, The Fall Of Troy and Fortitude

Top Boy, The Ipcress FIle and Them star Ashley Thomas plays lawyer Jaggers while Estella Havisham is played by Shalom Brune-Franklin, who's had roles in Line of Duty, Roadkill and the recent BBC1 hit The Tourist. Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake) and Killing Eve actor Owen McDonnell also star while Matt Berry (Toast of Tinseltown) plays Mr Pumblechuck.

Best Netflix Shows - Black Mirror

Fionn Whitehead (on left) here in Black Mirror's 'Bandersnatch'. (Image credit: Netflix)

Is there a 'Great Expectations' trailer?

As filming is only just underway for Great Expectations, a trailer is a way off yet. But as soon as one is posted by the BBC or FX we'll post it here. We can’t wait to see Olivia Colman dressed as Miss Havisham, presumably wearing an old wedding dress and one shoe. 

'Great Expectations' — previous adaptations 

Back in 1946, the novel Great Expectations was brought to the big screen, featuring John Mills and Alec Guinness, and then in 1998 we saw a modernized version starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow. In 2011 it was made into a series by the BBC, with Ray Winstone as Magwitch and Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham, then this was followed by the 2012 version, starring Toby Irvine and Ralph Fiennes, with Helena Bonham Carter playing Miss Havisham that time. 

Sir John Mills and Sir Alec Guinness in the 1946 film of 'Great Expecatations'

Sir John Mills and Sir Alec Guinness in the 1946 film of 'Great Expecatations'. (Image credit: Alamy)

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in BBC1's version of 'Great Expectations' in 2011.

Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in BBC1's version of 'Great Expectations' in 2011. (Image credit: BBC)

Nicholas Cannon
Nicholas Cannon

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.