Director: Mike Newell
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, Holliday Grainger
Written by: David Nicholls and (book) Charles Dickens
Running Time: 126 mins
Release date: 30th December 2012
If film has one limitation, it’s running times. No one wants to sit through a film that lasts 6 hours long. It doesn’t help the cinema owners getting those punters in and audiences aren’t going to be able to sit and concentrate for that long. Television, however, can. By giving us bite size episodes that we can handle. So when a book like Great Expectations comes to the big screen, you know that it’s going to be a very abridged version whereas the recent BBC production could cover the whole story. For that reason alone, this new adaptation of Charles Dicken’s epic novel suffers and I’m afraid, suffers badly.
Pip is a young orphan boy who we first meet at the grave of his dead mother. Suddenly he is jumped upon by escape convict, Magwitch. Agreeing to help him, Pip steals food from his family to give to the stranger, who is eventually captured by the authorities. Meanwhile, Pip’s life is taken a strange twist as he is asked to visit the mysterious Miss Havisham so she can watch him play. There he meets Estelle, a bullying yet pretty girl who Pip falls for.
Years later and Pip is now working with his brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, as a blacksmith when solicitor Mr Jaggers arrives to tell the young man he is to go to London and become a gentleman, paid for by a secret benefactor. Pip does as he is told but struggles with the status, the arrogant Bentley Drummle and his infatuation with the now older Estelle. Along with that, the truth about his benefactor is revealed.
This is a very classy affair. The production values are incredibly high and it looks magnificent. The performances, as you would expect from such a strong cast, is also very good. The problem is, this is like reading study notes for an English examination. All the characters are here and so is the plot but that’s it. It lacks any real emotional punch, any real tension and so we have a beautiful looking film with good acting but nothing else. The reason behind this is having the running time restrictions.
So to the performances and Jeremy Irvine does a decent job as Pip, bringing the innocence and naivety that you expect from the character. He is slowly becoming the go-to guy for romantic leads and he handles these parts well. Ralph Fiennes does a Magwitch, bringing a quiet evil to the role, although he does look like Ben Kingsley’s Fagin from the recent Oliver Twist. Helena Bonham-Carter was born to play Miss Havisham, the gothic looking actress with her large eyes and creepy acting style and what does surprise is that she underplays it, never going over the top that she has been allowed to do in the past and it works but only just.
Robbie Coltrane is fine as Mr Jaggers and David Walliams isn’t given enough screen time to make a real impression as Uncle Pumplechook. For me, the two stand-out performances come from Jason Flemyng as Joe and Ewan Bremner as accountant Wemmick. Flemyng’s Joe is the only character who manages to pull off any emotion contact with Pip and the scene in which Pip, now a gentleman, attacks Joe for his lack of class, is somewhat heartbreaking. Meanwhile, Bremner’s weasal-like Wemmick is a quietly likeable character who deserves much more time to enjoy his subtle characterisation.
Unfortunately the romance between Pip and Estelle is one of the things that suffers. It just doesn’t become believable and you wouldn’t know Pip was in love with her unless he told her (and us) several times. The chemistry between the two is almost non-existent.
So while director Mike Newell has made a lovely looking film and the acting is terrific, I left feeling empty and craved to watch the excellent BBC adaptation. At least we get the complete story there.