Great Expectations Olivia Colman initially snubbed Miss Havisham role

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Olivia Colman has addressed how she nearly turned down the role of Miss Havisham in the BBC’s forthcoming adaption of Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations. The six-part series has been given a post-watershed makeover by Peaky Blinders and Taboo’s Steven Knight which includes sex, foul language and violence. Miss Havisham, too, is given a grittier revamp with the jilted spinster surrounded in swirling plumes as she smokes opium in the show’s trailer.

Speaking at a recent event, Colman, 49, said about joining the BBC series: “No, in fact, I said no thank you because a couple of my good mates had played it.

“Then I realised in our world loads of people have played Richard III, it’s okay. Actors do that.”

“Then speaking to Steven, I read the scripts and in general I never say yes before I’ve read the scripts and I loved it.”

Some of the actresses to have taken on the iconic role of Miss Havisham have included Colman’s The Crown co-stars Helena Bonham Carter in 2012 and Gillian Anderson in 2011.

Charlotte Rampling, who starred with Colman in Broadchurch, also took on the role in a 1999 adaptation.

Colman said she loved how Knight had “heightened” the classic rags to riches tale.

She also addressed the challenges of filming, adding: “So much fun but much hotter than it looks!

“So in a room with a corset and petticoats and a fire in the heats of last summer – and a coat and the wig.”

Great Expectations was filmed in various locations across the UK last summer with the mercury soaring to a record-breaking 40 degrees while the cast shot scenes in heavy period garb.

Creator Knight, who was also at the Q&A in London, also said he was hoping to nab Colman for the role.

He had already written some of the scripts before sending it on to Colman’s representatives in the hopes of securing the actress.

Knight said: “Once you’ve got someone – there’s no one like Olivia. Once you know you’ve got Olivia then you go back start to reverse engineer.”

Colman stars opposite Dunkirk and Black Mirror actor Fionn Whitehead in the role of Pip, while Line of Duty’s Shalom Bruce-Franklin is Estella.

The show boasts a star-studded cast which also includes Toast of London’s Matt Berry, Johnny Harris, Hayley Squires, Trystan Gravelle, Ashley Thomas and Owen McDonnell.

This marks Knight’s second Dickens adaptation with the writer previously taking on the festive perennial A Christmas Carol back in 2019.

The show has already been attracting ire from some quarters, who have hit out at Knight for rewriting Great Expectations and framing the British Empire in a negative light.

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Knight said his version was taking Dickens down “dark alleys” the writer and journalist wouldn’t have been able to go due to the prudish morality of the Victorian era.

He said: “Everybody was doing the stuff then that they are now and what I hope I’m trying to do is if Dickens were around and had the liberty to go down some of those dark alleys.”

Knight said he was hoping he could say things Dickens couldn’t say, saying the writer would go off on tangents and leave his readers to fill in the blanks.

He also said Victorians readers were “forensic” in their analysis when reading Great Expectations and would get Dickens’ meaning without the writer explicitly stating it.

Great Expectations starts on BBC One on Sunday at 9pm

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