Written by David Nicholls
Directed by Mike Newell
Starring Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes
Pip: How can there be beauty without a heart?
It isn’t a good sign when an adaptation of a literary classic makes me question whether or not the book itself deserves to be called a classic. I’ve not read Charles Dickens’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS, but after seeing Mike Newell’s interpretation of the material, I’m not clamoring to either. While it is often beautifully shot, it is also often so outlandish that it is difficult to take any of it very seriously. And given that this particular tale is one that explores such important themes such as class differentiation and abuse of power, I would have liked to have felt the weight that should go along with it.
It starts out very promising. Cinematographer, John Mathieson, frames the quaint England village where Pip lives brilliantly, with striking colour that grounds the picture in a very realistic tone. Pip, an orphan who is played by Jeremy Irvine (WAR HORSE) in his adult years, is a child put upon by all in his life, safe for his sister’s husband, Joe (Jason Flemyng). Under a bizarre arrangement made to have Pip visit a wealthy spinster (Helena Bonham Carter), Pip meets a girl, falls in love and comes to understand that, as the son of a blacksmith, he will never be able to be with her unless he becomes a proper gentlemen. Pip should have been far more weary of what he wished for. His dreams do come true but they come with a very heavy price, as fortune often does.
Larger than life performances by Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes (as a convict who threatens and scars Pip as a child) are certainly standout, but they end up eclipsing much of everything else that is happening. This includes the romance between Pip and Estella (Holiday Grainger) that the entire premise of the film revolves around. If there is no love to root for between Pip and Estella, then there is nothing left but a cold look at tortured, difficult times. GREAT EXPECTATIONS can boast a handful of successful elements that make it a passable effort, but it is a far ways off from being called a classic.