You may feel as though you’ve seen Mike Newell’s interpretation of Dickens’ much-loved nineteenth-century novel before. And in a sense, we all have. It is beautifully shot, well-crafted and, for the most part, finely acted by a cast rife with great British talent. But this latest in a long string of adaptations is truly frustrating in its timidity and reticence to do anything fresh, daring or innovative with a text so rich with cinematic possibilities.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS is a rag-to-riches tale, dark thriller and gothic love story all rolled into one. Pip’s (Jeremy Irvine) coming of age is sparked by a chance boyhood encounter on the moors with escaped convict Magwitch (a miscast Ralph Fiennes). On his journey from boy to gentleman he will be taken in by a jilted spinster (Helen Bonham-Carter), fall in love with the cold-hearted Estella (Holliday Grainger) and acquire the means to fulfil his high aspirations by an unknown benefactor. Then Pip’s past comes back to haunt him and his new life is thrown into disarray.
Newell reverts to clichéd characterisation, relishing in caricature rather than attempting to convey any humanity…
Jeremy Irvine is a talented young actor, so it is disappointing not to see more chemistry between him and Holliday Grainger. Newell’s direction is perhaps at fault, as he plays it safe and doesn’t see the dramatic potential in Estella’s character; she is a girl raised to be callous, a puppet fated to fulfil the vengeance of a heartbroken recluse. Similarly, whilst Helen Bonham-Carter is wonderfully Burton-esque as a crazed, high-octane Miss Havisham, no sense of genuine sorrow or pathos comes through in her performance. Newell reverts to clichéd characterisation, relishing in caricature rather than attempting to convey any humanity in these enduring literary figures.
That said, the cinematography is very atmospheric, from the sinister gloom of the marshes to the detailed interiors of Victorian London. Miss Havisham’s manor is a self-imposed prison of ivy and stone, a forbidding image when seen through young Pip’s eyes. Yet the ending, a less ambiguous, more optimistic one than the novel’s, may leave you cold. If you were hoping for a fresh, assertive take on the classic novel then you should perhaps lower your expectations; this visually impressive version remains frustratingly traditional.