Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd demonstrates his considerable talents as Pip in Masterpiece Theatre's "Great Expectations." 

Exceeding Expectations

"Great Expectations"
PBS-TV
9 p.m.
Sunday-Monday, May 9-10

Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd's only problem is that most of us don't know how to pronounce his name.

Other than that, things couldn't be better. He's starred in one successful miniseries, "Horatio Hornblower," on A&E, and he's about to do the same thing on PBS in "Great Expectations." Before that, he had a couple of smallish parts in two movies. In "Titanic," he played Fifth Officer Lowe, the young officer who helped rescue survivors. In "Wilde," he played one of Oscar Wilde's earlier lovers, the one on whom Wilde based his book "The Picture of Dorian Gray." And right now, Gruffudd is in Prague working on "Peacemakers," a British film.

Not a bad start for a 24-year-old actor from Cardiff.

In "Hornblower," Ioan Gruffudd — the closest you can come to it in English is YO-ahn GRIF-fith — showed his romantic adventurer side in the title role of C.S. Forester's swashbuckling stories. In "Great Expectations," he further demonstrates the range of his talents in the role of Pip, the Dickensian hero who goes from rags to riches with the help of a secret benefactor. Who knows what deep resources a 24-year-old has to draw on, but Gruffudd nonetheless managed to make the two characters, Hornblower and Pip, dramatically different. Hornblower was exuberant and forthright. Gruffudd's Pip, however, is awkwardly na‹ve, even gawky at first, before developing the supercilious manner that befits his new station.

Given Gruffudd's star turn in two choice and juicy TV roles in a row, it's clear that not all the "Great Expectations" are Pip's. Gruffudd's future looks bright, too.

This week's "Masterpiece Theatre" doesn't belong to Gruffudd alone, however. Much has got to be said for Charlotte Rampling's tour-de-force as Miss Havisham, the deranged woman who has hated men ever since her fiancé stood her up at her wedding many years ago. Trailing around her decaying mansion in her moldy wedding gown, the rotting remains of the wedding banquet still on the dining room table, Rampling's Havisham is not so much crazy as she is in deep need of therapy. But Rampling is wise enough to keep her character under rigid control, making her all the more terrifying.

In "Great Expectations," Charles Dickens created such a rich and layered story that no one movie or TV adaptation can do it justice. Previous versions have emphasized the story's mysteries and Miss Havisham's insanity. In the "Masterpiece Theatre" version, however, producer David Snodin has emphasized the savagery of the story — how Pip's sister abuses him, how Miss Havisham torments Estella (Justine Waddell), how the ghastly Pumblechook (Terence Rigby) mistreats Pip. And although some of Dickens' plot is left by the wayside — and a new ending is tacked on — Snodin's treatment gives us a streamlined "Great Expectations" that is well worth watching.

It's also one more good reason to learn how to pronounce Ioan Gruffudd's

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