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New adaptation of Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations' ripped for BDSM scene: 'Unwatchable'

Fans are balking at a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “Great Expectations” that includes a spanking scene, opium usage and other controversial themes that are not apparent in the classic author’s original text.  

“Great Expectations” follows the life of a young orphan boy named Pip who is introduced as a companion to the wealthy Miss Havisham, before receiving an unexpected fortune from an unknown benefactor that allows him to travel to London and enter high society. The new BBC1 series, from screenwriter Steven Knight, takes some controversial liberties. Several viewers say they were turned off by the use of BDSM and “kink” themes, and by the series turning Havisham into an opium addict.

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“I keep wanting to at least relax and enjoy #GreatExpectations on TV,” Claire Fox, a member of the House of Lords, tweeted. “One of my favourite novels. Many adapations I have both admired and quibbled over. But FGS – all this BDSM kink vibe is making it unwatchable.” 

Several users decried a scene from episode two that involved whipping. In the opening segment, the character Mr. Pumblechook is spanked over a bed by Mrs. Gargery, who is being described as a dominatrix housewife. 

“You know what’s coming, don’t you? Turn around,” she said, before slapping Pumblechook ten times as he was bent over her bed. 

In writing the series, Knight said he was trying to imagine how Dickens “would write the story now and have the freedom to go to those darker places.”

British novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) sat in his study in Gads Hill near Rochester, Kent  circa 1860 

British novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) sat in his study in Gads Hill near Rochester, Kent  circa 1860  (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)

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He also suggested that he was reading between the lines in Dickens’ original text.

“And if you read about what Victorian London was like, there’s a lot of stuff going on and Dickens knew there was a lot of stuff going on and his readers knew,” Knight said, according to The Radio Times. But they all knew he couldn’t write about that sort of stuff, not because he wasn’t brave, but because you just didn’t do that sort of thing.”

“So I think if you take a microscope to the text of Dickens – for example, Pumblechook and Mrs Gargery, there are a couple of lines in there where they disappear together,” he continued. “And I think that a Victorian readership were a bit more forensic about what was going on.”

The Dickens Fellowship, a global coalition of people who share an interest in the classic author’s life and work, pushed back on Knight and the series at large. 

“How can he put himself in Dickens’ place and say what he would have done? I think the scenes would just seem unnecessary. I don’t know if Dickens would have included a spanking scene! …Pumblechook is essentially a comic book character without a hint of sexual deviance…’” Honorary General Secretary Paul Graham said, The Daily Mail reported.

A general view shows the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Television Centre in west London REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN)

A general view shows the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Television Centre in west London REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN) (REUTERS/Toby Melville)

“I love it how the BBC has got around Dickens being really boring by introducing loads of recreational whipping #GreatExpectations,” podcast host Tom Holland wrote.

“#GreatSexpectations,” another quipped. 

Others complained that the show fell flat because it was too dark and “dreary.”

Some, however, said they appreciated the different adaptation.

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“I like the new BBC #GreatExpectations & what it adds to this great novel. There’s a much more adult backbone with sex, whipping, opium addiction. There are so many adaptations – this feels new. I also like the soundscape. So some will dislike it but you don’t have to watch!”

An employee at Sotheby's holds an 1843 first edition of the classic "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens in London, U.K., Tuesday, December 5, 2006. 

An employee at Sotheby’s holds an 1843 first edition of the classic “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens in London, U.K., Tuesday, December 5, 2006.  (Photo by Suzanne Plunkett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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Several classic works have been getting makeovers as of late that some have blasted as “woke.” Puffin, the publisher of Roald Dahl’s classic works, came under fire for hiring sensitivity readers to update portions of the author’s wording in the U.K. editions to ensure the books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today.” The edits included new gender-neutral language and altered descriptions of certain characters’ physical appearances.

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