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Dickens scholar weighs in on Harry and Meghan's new Netflix Great Expectations project


Prince Harry and Meghan have been warned that their plans for a Great Expectations prequel about Miss Havisham could go wrong.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are reportedly interested in delving into the Victorian world of Dickens with a prequel to his 1861 novel.

Reports say that the royal couple want to develop a feminist version of Miss Havisham called Bad Manners, which would see the character cast as a ‘strong woman living in a patriarchal society’.

However, a top Dickens expert has warned that the idea has already been explored in Ronald Frame’s novel Havisham a decade ago and the 2015 series Dickensian.

Dr Emily Bell, an English professor and editor of The Dickensian, the journal of the Dickens Fellowship, told the Mail that Harry and Meghan’s proposed show for Netflix, which has yet to be given the go-ahead, could “fall into the trap of thinking a focus on this iconic character is inherently feminist”.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Bad Manners would see Miss Havisham cast as a “strong woman living in a patriarchal society”.

But Dr Bell, an academic at the University of Leeds, told the Mail: “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.”

The original Dickens story had Miss Havisham as a lonely spinster who wears a wedding dress for the rest of her life after being stood up at the altar.

She encourages her adopted daughter, Estella, to torment men with her beauty and helps her to get Pip to fall in love with her, just so she can break his heart.

She eventually begs Pip for forgiveness and dies in tragic circumstances, with her final words an apology to Estella.

Dr Bell told the Mail: “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.

“That said, it’s wonderful that Dickens retains such interest and that people keep coming back to his stories.”

Speculation about the Charles Dickens remake came in a US newspaper article which quoted executives of Netflix and Spotify saying that they were ‘underwhelmed’ by the pair’s performance.

Spotify recently terminated Meghan’s podcast Archetypes, while Netflix has reportedly rejected several of their ideas.

PR expert Mark Borkowski told the Mail that the royal couple were failing to produce shows that interest the public.

He said: “Studio execs are subject to constant pitch 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.”

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