Harry and Meghan’s plan to make a Great Expectations prequel about Miss Havisham is not new and could be more ‘voyeuristic misery’ than feminist TV hit, a world-leading Dickens expert told MailOnline today.
Dr Emily Bell, an English professor and editor of The Dickensian, the journal of the prestigious Dickens Fellowship, told MailOnline that Miss Havisham’s backstory was already explored in the 2015 series Dickensian and Ronald Frame’s novel ‘Havisham’ in 2012.
Just this year Olivia Colman played her for a 2023 BBC series – and multiple movies have portrayed the heartbroken spinster in a wedding dress over the years – but Harry and Meghan are still developing their proposed TV show for Netflix called ‘Bad Manners’, although the streaming giant has not officially given the green light.
In a bid to revive their flagging fortunes, the couple want to delve into the Victorian world of Dickens with a prequel to his 1861 novel Great Expectations, which focuses on a feminist version of Miss Havisham. Bad Manners will see the character cast as a ‘strong woman living in a patriarchal society’, The Wall Street Journal has said.
But Dr Bell, an academic at the University of Leeds, warned: ‘It’s not necessarily feminist to rehash Miss Havisham’s life, and I’d be very concerned this adaptation would fall into the trap of thinking a focus on this iconic character is inherently feminist – or somehow it’s doing more than Dickens in fleshing out a backstory that engages the viewer in the same voyeuristic misery again’.
Olivia Colman played Miss Havisham in the 2023 BBC mini-series
Experts have raised questions about a reported plan by Harry and Meghan to reimagine Great Expectations
In Great Expectations Miss Havisham is a lonely spinster who wears a tattered wedding dress for the rest of her life after being jilted at the altar.
She lives in a rotting mansion, Satis House, with her adopted daughter, Estella, who she teaches to torment men with her beauty. Havisham lures in the book’s hero Pip and ensures he falls in love with Estella – just so she can break his heart.
But late in the novel she repents and begs Pip for forgiveness after Estella shuns him to marry violent rogue Bentley Drummley. Shortly afterwards her wedding dress is set alight by an open fire – she suffers burns and dies weeks later despite Pip’s efforts to save her. Her final words are an apology to Estella.
Dr Bell said: ‘There’s a risk with these prequels of just making the viewer watch and rewatch the traumatic, foregone conclusion of Miss Havisham’s ending – and we all know how it ends.
‘Making her a “strong woman living in a patriarchal society” seems to invite us to watch a strong woman get broken, without what Dickens gives us: a sense that things can be righted, even if in only small ways and only for the next generation, at the end.’
She added: ‘That said, it’s wonderful that Dickens retains such interest and that people keep coming back to his stories’.
There is great academic debate about whether Miss Havisham is a feminist – fatally flawed or otherwise.
News of the Charles Dickens remake came in a damning US newspaper article which summed up the Sussexes’ dealings with Netflix as ‘big ideas, subpar execution’ and quoted executives of the streaming giant and Spotify saying they were ‘underwhelmed’ by the pair’s performance.
Since quitting their royal duties in 2020, the couple have been focusing on building a career in streaming and podcasting.
But they received a blow earlier this month when Spotify said it was terminating Meghan’s podcast, Archetypes. Meanwhile, Netflix is reportedly planning to can their deal with the Sussexes when it expires in 2025 – after rejecting several of their ideas for shows.
Harry and Meghan are developing a Netflix show called ‘Bad Manners’, based on a feminist version of Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations – according to the Wall Street Journal.
As news of ‘Bad Manners’ emerged, PR expert Mark Borkowski said their lack of success so far showed they were failing to produce shows that interest the public.
He told MailOnline: ‘Studio execs are subject to constant pitches ideas that have to be good. It shows they might be too far away from their audience tastes. Worthy content has to be good it’s not about broadcasting to their bubble.’
Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham in the seminal ‘Great Expectations’ Film of 1946. Helena Bonham Carter in the same role in 2012
Spotify revealed earlier this month that it was terminating Meghan’s podcast, Archetypes
Meanwhile, royal author Richard Fitzwilliams told MailOnline: ‘It is one thing for Meghan to narrate Elephant for Disney, another to take on Dickens.
‘Meghan’s animated series, Pearl, was cancelled by Netflix and Spotify were far from pleased with Archetypes. Harry’s documentary, Heart of Invictus is reportedly due out soon – but it’s reasonable to ask why have they done so little despite their high profile and expectations that their brand would have huge international appeal.
‘Harry’s judgement about what to include in his memoir, Spare, was badly flawed too. Surely Meghan’s new agent is able to arrange more work for them? Hollywood dislikes failure. Many are asking how talented they really are.’
While it’s unclear if the Dickens remake will get the green light from Netflix, brand and culture expert Nick Ede suggested it was a bid by them to cash in on the success of historical dramas like Bridgerton.
The WSJ also reported that Taylor Swift refused to appear on Archetypes despite receiving a personal letter from Meghan.
While the series is no more, Harry’s documentary on the Invictus Games, a production agreed shortly after the couple signed the £80million deal with Netflix in 2020, is still in the works.
The programme, Heart of Invictus, will follow competitors around the world training for the Games at The Hague which had been expected to take place in 2020 but were delayed until 2021 due to the pandemic.
It is one of the couple’s only ideas that was not rejected by the streaming giant.
The WSJ said that Harry and Meghan had suggested shows that were too similar to already popular Netflix programmes such as sitcoms like Emily in Paris but ‘about a man’, and a show about LGBTQ characters similar to those in Heartstopper.
Another suggestion was a documentary discussing misinformation – which also did not make it off the drawing board.
A team assigned to the job at Archewell inevitably had questions, including whether Harry and Meghan would feature in the show and give their opinions on the topic.
The couple responded to the queries with little resolution and the idea was dropped, according to the report.
Also rejected was an animated show about powerful women in history called Pearl.