Film Review: Great Expectations

| 7 March , 2013 | Reply

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Directed by: Mike Newell
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Holiday Granger, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Robbie Coltrane
Sassi’s Star Rating: 3.5/5

There is a lot of pressure for filmmakers to be constantly reinventing the wheel, especially when that wheel has been rotated as many times as Great Expectations has been over the years. One then wonders what the audience reaction will be to Newell’s latest version of the well loved novel, which decides resolutely to play it straight with tradition. Those who loved Alfonso Cuarón’s 1998 version (aka the Gwyneth Paltrow version) will probably label Newell’s incarnation unadventurous, while others will applaud it for staying (relatively) true to Dicken’s original text. Either way, it is hard to argue that this latest version is not a solid film.


Pip (played as an adult by Warhorse star Jeremy Irvine, and as a child by his brother Toby Irivne) is an orphan child, living life rough under the harsh hand of his older sister (Sally Hawkins).  While visiting his parent’s graves he is accosted by an escaped convict (Ralph Fiennes) begging for food – which Pip provides in the form of Uncle Pumblechook’s Christmas pie.

Pumblechook (Little Britain’s David Walliams) volunteers Pip as a playdate for the young Estella (Helena Barlow and later Holiday Granger) and he must turn up as instructed and perform for the entertainment of the eccentric Miss Havisham. Despite her cool and callous exterior, Pip is captivated with the beautiful young heir – even as Miss Havisham warns that Estella will only break his heart. That she soon does when Pip is banned from coming to see Estella again.


So imagine Pip’s surprise when as a young adult he is approached by a lawyer who claims that an anonymous benefactor has left Pip a sizeable fortune, only to be accessed under the conditions that he moves to London to become a gentleman. Pip has great expectations you see, as long as he agrees to never change his name.


Jeremy Irvine again proves himself to be an amiable leading man, with much of the film resting on his relatively new shoulders. Fiennes takes a stab at a thick cockney slang as Magwitch, while who could be more perfectly cast as the eerie Miss Havisham then the (slightly less) eccentric Helena Bonham-Carter? Surprisingly, though adapted for screen by the celebrated mind behind great British love story One Day, David Nicholls, the romantic sub-plot does not overwhelm the film. We’re given a good dose of suspense to play with here, and it is played out beautifully on the film – even for those whom know what is coming next.


This reviewer was most impressed by Newell’s portrayal of the Finches Club – a wealthy London gentlemen’s club patronised by adolescent minded dandies who like to misbehave. If you think boy’s nights are bad now, be dismayed by the male bonding that used to go down circa 1860.

Handsomely shot, finely acted and well scripted; Great Expectations is well worth seeing for a slightly twisted period jaunt. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it will keep Dickens fans and newcomer’s motors running.

Great Expectations is in cinemas now.


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