Based on the Charles Dicken’s novel comes this faithful adaptation with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch in a story about a humble orphan who suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor.‘Great Expectations’ of course is the novel from Charles Dickens, a coming of age story following an orphan boy set against Victorian England first published in late 1860. The novel has undergone both film and TV adaptations before as well as a modernised version from Alfonso Cuaron in 1998. In this most recent version director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time) elected to stay closer to the source material in both setting and content, however it’s also not without some creative licence.
Newell takes the time during the first act to build up the relationships among the central characters of the film. The time taken to develop the strength of these relationships assists the drama later in the film as tensions escalate. In fact this film is paced slowly throughout with a consistent slow burn, nothing is rushed as events unfold in an intricate manner.
The exploration of our central character Pip from humble beginnings to higher society is told effectively as we witness his various relationships take shape and evolve through the film. Packed with picturesque landscapes across the countryside juxtaposed against the crowded and unforgiving streets of London, the film’s visual settings and locations are both intriguing and a pleasure to watch as they both physically and metaphorically encapsulate the changes going on in Pip’s life.
Where the film threatens to become over ambitious relates to the number of subplots and twists that are built into a two hour film. While the central elements are articulated effectively various other characters and backstory are pieced together in a rather convoluted manner leaving sections of the film somewhat messy.
Where things start to shine however is with the cast, Helen Bonham Carter is excellent as the eccentric and unhinged Miss Havisham, and there is a sense of trauma that seeps into her performance so well. Ralph Fiennes fills the role of Magwitch convincingly while the film depends more heavily upon both Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger. Irvine receives much more screen time than Grainger and projects a sensitive and naïve take alongside Grainger’s conflicted but icy demeanour, it would have been good for the pair to share more scenes but when they are on screen together it serves the central focus of the film well.
Overall this version of ‘Great Expectations’ certainly has a sense of authenticity to its production design, and while the various story elements come together with mixed success at times, there are many intriguing and dramatic aspects to the story and characters which are ultimately worth your patience.
I’m giving ‘Great Expectations’ six out of ten stars, it’s released in cinemas around Australia on Thursday 7 March 2013.