The scene in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations in which the convict Magwitch first surprises young Pip Pirrip in a graveyard is one of the most memorable in English literature.
In David Lean's 1946 film adaptation, it became one of the scariest images in British cinema too, thanks to the performance of Edinburgh-born Finlay Currie in those heart-stopping opening scenes set on the bleak Kent marshes. The latest actor to take on the role is Ralph Fiennes. He stars in Mike Newell's upcoming adaptation, yesterday revealed as the closing film in October's London Film Festival.
In doing so Fiennes joins an illustrious list of Magwitches, among them James Mason, Anthony Hopkins, Stratford Johns and American actor of the silent era Frank Losee, who was five when the novel was published in 1861.
Even South Park creator Trey Parker has had a go, voicing Magwitch in a 2000 episode based on Great Expectations.
Most recently it was Ray Winstone who filled the convict's shoes in last year's BBC adaptation.
It's a meaty role for any actor, then, with or without the various prostheses employed over the years (florid scars, bulbous noses, that sort of thing).
But Magwitch stands for other things beyond a challenge for the make-up department: he shows loyalty, nobility, redemption and a belief in the idea that one good turn deserves another.
Pip (under threat of having his liver torn out, admittedly) steals food for Magwitch and is rewarded with the "great expectations" of the title.
Neither hero nor rascal, Magwitch remains one of Dickens's most enduring characters. Here's hoping Ralph Fiennes does him justice.
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