Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Universal Pictures

Now Showing

There have been umpteen screen adaptations, both big and small, of Charles Dickens' classic novel, Great Expectations, that you would think it impossible that the story of orphan boy Pip who, through a secret benefactor, becomes a London gentleman only to squander it all through hubris and for love, would be unknown to anyone.

Yet some people, like the friend who accompanied me to the screening of this latest iteration (penned by David Nicholls and directed by Mike Newell), are unfamiliar with this story, and one can only assume it is for them that this film has been made. Not that Great Expectations 2012 is bad Dickens or even literary-period-film-by-numbers.

For even if Newell doesn't reinvent the wheel -- unlike, say, Alfonso Cuaron, whose 1998 film version was set in modern-day Miami -- his handsomely produced version manages to provide enough points of difference to negate the inevitable deja vu for Dickens fans, whilst entertaining the G.E. newbies.

That first point of difference is in the casting. Initially I thought Helena Bonham Carter as the tragic and eccentric Miss Havisham, jilted on her wedding day and living in a bio-dome of self pity -- stopping the clocks, leaving the wedding cake out to rot, never removing her bridal gown -- in the years since, was obvious to the point of cliche. But to her credit, Bonham Carter manages to keep her crazy lady tics in-check.

Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, the escaped convict whose life becomes inextricably linked with Pip's (played as a child by Toby Irvine, and as an adult by big brother Jeremy Irvine, star of 2011's War Horse) following a meeting on the moors, could also have been predictably one-note. But he manages to invest the character with a sensitive soul and becomes, along with Jason Flemying's Joe Gargery (Pip's blacksmith brother-in-law), the emotional heart of the story.

Pip, however, whether Nicholls' and Newell's intent, or whether it had always been the case with Dickens' novel, comes off as an ungrateful, selfish jerk once he comes into money; interested only in winning the heart of the icy Estella (Holliday Grainger), Miss Havisham's ward and protege, raised to wreak revenge on the male sex, and whom Pip has loved since childhood.

The two make for disinteresting romantic leads (pretty, yes, but dull), with Pip's roommate, Herbert Pocket (Olly Alexander), one of London's many hipster-ish young gentlemen, proving much more likeable.

This was also the first time while watching any version of Great Expectations that I was aware how much the story is about Karma: Pip's childhood kindness is rewarded by his secret benefactor; Magwitch's unwitting involvement in Miss Havisham's broken heart is balanced out by her raising of Estella, [Spoiler Alert] Magwitch's daughter; Pip's selfish bevahiour leads to his downfall; Joe Gargery is nothing but good and is rewarded in kind.

I don't know if Dickens believed in Karma, or if this is something which Nicholls and Newell brought to this film (or perhaps I'm one of the few to only notice it now) but again, it gives this version a point of difference. And if fans of the author and the book keep their expectations in-check, they, along with the first timers, will find this Great Expectations rewards them in kind.

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