Whenever a film decides to tackle a historical event, they’re rarely tales filled with peace, understanding and love; rather, it's usually a display of human behaviour at its worst, which leaves you feeling sick inside at the realisation that this, in fact, did happen. It seems that even the most remote of civilisations aren’t exempt from man’s greed and sense of entitlement, an idea explored in ‘Mr Pip’.
In the 80s during a copper boom, the most profitable and vital mine to Papua New Guinea’s economy is located on the island of Bougainville. Due to environmental damage, among other things, the locals go to war with PNG proper over the rights to the mine, and the island’s population is left abandoned and isolated during this conflict. With dwindling supplies, Bougainville’s only white resident Mr Watts (Hugh Laurie), whom the locals call Popeye, takes it upon himself to become the children’s teacher. He starts by reading them ‘Great Expectations’ and introducing them to the wonders of Mr Charles Dickens. The children become engrossed and inspired, in particular Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi), who goes so far as to create a fantasy world where she can converse with Pip himself. With the mining conflict still looming and the threat of Papuan troops prevalent, the island is transformed with the introduction of Mr Pip and Mr Dickens to their lives, with both beautiful and tragic consequences.
SWITCH: MR PIP - TRAILER
Hugh Laurie is transcendent, which only time will prove, and his onscreen partnership with newcomer Xzannjah Matsi is simply beautiful, as Matsi’s performance is radiant in itself. These two characters and actors are marvellously understated and never allow themselves to become more important than the story they’re trying to tell. The independent nature of the film works in favour with its setting and significant themes, with New Zealand director Andrew Adamson (‘Shrek’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’) creating an ode to the land in which he once lived and uses his island’s nuanced beauty to perfection, even when transforming it to 19th century London through the eyes of an island girl.
Moments of this film are brutal and gut-wrenching, but well worth the emotional discomfort.