For those who were not, like I, forced to read Charles Dickens’ novel in school and tried to make sense of his elaborate Victorian language, here’s the plot:
Pip, a young orphan, (Toby Irvine) lives on the coast with his odious sister (Sally Hawkins) and her kindly husband, blacksmith Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng), with whom he has a brotherly friendship. One evening, he is confronted by Abel Magwitch, a fugitive from justice (Ralph Fiennes), and is persuaded to bring him some food. Shortly thereafter, Magwitch is recaptured, to temporarily disappear from the tale. Days later, Pip is brought to the stately home of Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), resident aristocrat and mad as a hatter, to serve as a companion to Estella, her hopelessly spoiled, adopted daughter (Helena Barlow).
Moving forward in time, Pip, now a young man (Jeremy Irvine), unexpectedly inherits a fortune from an unknown benefactor, whom he naturally assumes to be Miss Havisham. Suddenly a “gentleman” – with no need to work for a living – he moves to London, makes the right friends, joins the right clubs, and renews his acquaintance with the flighty Estelle (Holliday Grainger), who has grown into a beauty and one of the most desirable heiresses in England. It is at this point that Abel Magwitch makes a sudden reappearance – and the skeins of the story begin to interweave…
Directed by Mike Newell (PRINCE OF PERSIA, HARRY POTTER), the movie has a dark and somber feel, skipping through time with economy and conviction. The look of the film is glossy and expensive, the set design and costumes deluxe. The acting professional and competent, although, with two exceptions, we have seen the same actors portraying very similar roles in just about every classic British adaptation: from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights to the tedious glut of motion pictures based on the works of Jane Austin. That being said, I couldn’t help but wonder why this movie was actually made. GREAT EXPECTATIONS has been adapted many times for the screen since David Lean’s original 1946 version, as recently as 18 months ago, in fact, as a BBC TV series, which scooped up 4 prime-time Emmy Awards, with a further 3 wins and 8 nominations – possibly why this version has not yet been picked up by any US distributor.
Although Newell has attempted to give it an epic quality, it is lacking in that most basic of requirements: characters we can relate to and seriously care about. None of them are given a chance to properly unfold, nor is there any time spent on delving into their relationships to one another. This is a pity, for the book encompasses many powerful relationships, which Newell has chosen to ignore. Overall, GREAT EXPECTATIONS has little sense of tragedy and no soul and is more like a daily soap melodrama than the grand epic it was clearly intended to be.
German distributor: Senator Film Verleihs; Release date: Dec. 13; Running time: 128 min.; Director: Mike Newell; Writer: Charles Dickens (Novel); David Nicholls (Screenplay); Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Jeremy Irvine, Sally Hawkins, Cinematographer: John Mathieson; Composer: Richard Hartley