It hasn’t even been a year since the BBC’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations hit our TV screens, now soon to hit the silver screen is Mike Newell’s version, a well-directed, star-studded film following the well-known story of a young boy named Pip.
Taking on a story as infamous as this one must be a challenge to any director – the audience will have literal “great expectations” of any adaptation because of their knowledge of the storyline – but for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire director Newell, his infectious enthusiasm translated from his screening introduction throughout the film.
The movie begins with the usual mythical shots looking over marshland, with a young, fine-limbed boy running to the graves of his family. Kneeling at a head-stone, young Pip (Toby Irvine – real life brother to older Pip actor, Jeremy) is happened upon by an escaped convict played by Ralph Fiennes, where Pip shows his true, charitable heart.
The Irvine brothers do an excellent job as the gentle Pip: Toby brings innocence to life in his younger Pip, while Jeremy makes the transition to the older Pip believable. Fiennes also gives a believable performance as the weather-beaten criminal, allowing a little humanity to seep out of his otherwise animal characteristics.
The story continues as Pip is summoned to Satis House, a large, spooky mansion belonging to the decaying Miss Havisham. Called upon to play with her adopted daughter, Estella (Holliday Grainger) – an ethereal beauty – the audience begins to learn of Miss Havisham’s “sick fancies”, the twisted fate she has laid out for Estella and Pip.
Playing the part of the legendry Miss Havisham is Helena Bonham Carter; a legend in her own right. As the “Queen of Weird and Wonderful”, Bonham Carter doesn’t quite sink her teeth into the role as much as she could have. Perhaps Tim Burton’s direction might have encouraged her to unleash a little more, allowing her to leave a bitter and unsavoury taste. Instead the audience are encouraged, as all those that surround her are, to empathise with her.
As per the novel, Miss Havisham is dished-up in her wedding dress, a ghost of a bride jilted at the altar. Satis House and Miss Havisham reflect one another, unkempt, crumbling and yet still standing.
Eventually the young Pip is dismissed from Satis House (much to his displeasure) and returns to his sister’s house – his only remaining family member – to work as a blacksmith. Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe (Sally Hawkins) is a miserable tyrant, but juxtaposing Pip’s oppressor is Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng), a gentle, kind character. Flemyng and Hawkins play their roles superbly, Hawkins with perhaps a little more vigour than necessary.
A few years later, an older Pip comes in to good fortune when an unknown benefactor gives a large amount of money to him, allowing him to leave for London to begin a new life as a gentleman. Now among the wealthy society, it is presumed Pip’s misfortune would subside, but in fact more than ever Pip find’s himself trying to be someone he is not: a young man with great expectations preyed upon by all those around him.
Other supporting actors are Robbie Coltrane (as Mr Jaggers), David Walliams (Uncle Pumblechook), Jessie Cave (Biddy) and Tamzin Outhwaite (Molly). Walliams certainly brings his renowned comic ability to his role, but it is Outhwaite who surprises the most in her “wild animal, tamed” role. Coltrane uses his physique to exert power and stage presence as the lawyer and Cave shows promise since her role in Harry Potter.
Filmed in a straightforward manner, this latest version of Great Expectations serves the much loved tale with an exceptionally British cast. Clearly Newell believes the public still have an appetite for the story, despite the BBC series not so long ago.
Newell used an actual stately home, Holdenby House in Northamptonshire as Statis House. His loyalty not only to Dickens’ book, but also to Britain, should be acknowledged. If Great Expectations had so much as a sprinkling of Hollywood glitter, the effect would have ruined the movie.
As far as films go, this is a solid re-working with a few alterations and a modified ending. Living up to its name, this adaptation is worth watching.
Great Expectations is released nationwide on 30th November 2012
Watch the trailer for Great Expectations here: