Cinema Review – Great Expectations
Great Expectations has made almost fifteen appearances on-screen, this the latest by British director Mike Newell, almost a year after its popular appearance on UK screens as a televised drama. Newell is somewhat of a marmite director, yet instantly recognisable; whether or not you enjoy his work, his films are iconic: Four Weddings and a [...]
Great Expectations has made almost fifteen appearances on-screen, this the latest by British director Mike Newell, almost a year after its popular appearance on UK screens as a televised drama. Newell is somewhat of a marmite director, yet instantly recognisable; whether or not you enjoy his work, his films are iconic: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Pushing Tin – then there’s… well, the least enjoyable Harry Potter film, Goblet of Fire, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Not many films have made me yearn for a lobotomy as much as Persia did. Big budget, big cast, lavish sets and costumes, politely funny character-driven screenplays, and a hell of a lot of adaptations – he’s a bit like a box of Thornton’s chocolates. There’s a variety in there, but you almost always know what you’re going to get. He’s the safe option, and if there was anyone out there who was going to develop an overrun Dickens novel to screen and try to put his own stamp on it, it was going to be Newell.
Great Expectations stars Jeremy Irvine, fresh out of War Horse, as Pip, the boy born into poverty and pulled out of it by an unknown benefactor. He grows up on the British seaside, where in true Dickens style he is used, abused, and unloved – until the day he meets Miss Havisham and his whole life seems to change completely: he is bewitched by her mysterious and somewhat cold daughter Estella, who of course is only interested in toying with his heart, as it soons come to light that she is an unforgiving sociopath. Ah, yes, again, in true Dickens style. Pip is extracted from this life though, in his teens, when he comes across a fortune donated to him, presumably by Havisham, but he can’t really be sure. For those of you not familiar with the story, I won’t spoil. So Pip leaves the poor, craggy coast for – well, quite frankly, a rather grotty looking 19th Century London, where he buys up a gorgeous batchelor pad and works his way through high society, forgetting the little ones but never forgetting his first love, who he is constantly determined to win over .
Miss Havisham is played with whimsical grace by Helena Bonham Carter; it feels like she was born to wear that cobwebbed dress, and she certainly plays obsessed – and tragically sad – well. Ralph Fiennes is also fantastic as Magwitch, the dirty, scheming criminal who we are drawn to feel repulsed by and pity for simultaneously. Irvine still feels a little green on his feet as a young actor, but there’s sincerity in his performance, particularly as the film moves on and stronger during his scenes with Fiennes. Holliday Granger is a real star, though – she manages to retain the ice-cold calm exterior that’s so essential to the character of Estella, yet her eyes tell a different story and carry the emotion that Pip is sure he can read underneath it all. There’s a great supporting cast of quality British stock – another trademark of Newell – from Robbie Coltrane to Sally Hawkins, David Walliams and Jessie Cave, who you may recognise as Lavender Brown from the Harry Potter films. The adaptation is definitely a film version of comfort food – everything feels familiar, and warm, and it’s definitely the best kind of watch for the festive season.
The film’s strongest element, for me, was the way that it looked – it was perfectly stunning cinematography, from the rural landscape of England’s coast to the rancid, bustling streets of Dickens’ London. Every frame is carefully articulated and every colour and detail is thought of. It reminded me of Andrea Arnold’s 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights, without the shaky-cam overuse; a conscious effort to present the British Isles as a nostalgic and naturally beautiful landscape. So while the film looked beautiful and the cast were terrific, the story fell a little short in its fullness – a lot happens in Great Expectations, and the focus felt a somewhat lost in a few of the arcs. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful film and a real jump back from the disappointment of Persia – traditional Newell at its best.