Director Mike Newell, who’s given us everything from ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ to a Harry Potter movie, is now tackling the Charles Dickens classic, ‘Great Expectations’. The novel has been lining bookshelves since 1861 and gracing our movie and television screens since the mediums' inceptions. Considered Dickens finest and most popular work, it’s no wonder so many have been falling over themselves to put their stamp on it - but that’s just the problem... Dickens wrote an almost perfect novel, making it impossible to stray from the original text. In 1998, Alfonso Cuarón (another Harry Potter director) tried to update the story and move it to New York in one of the most critically panned adaptations ever. The lesson here: don’t mess with perfection.
While there’s nothing technically wrong with Newell’s film, it simply lacks justification and an original inkling. With the original text still being taught in schools, high school students are the only ones to benefit from this retelling, to avoid having to suffer through Gwyneth Paltrow or a six-hour miniseries.
Where this version does earn its stripes is the phenomenal cast. With a terrific support team of Robbie Coltrane (‘Harry Potter’), Joe Flemyng (‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’), Sally Hawkins (‘Happy-Go-Lucky’) and David Walliams (‘Little Britain’), the bulk of the credit lies in its four outstanding leads in roles tailor-made for their talents; ‘War Horse’ star Jeremy Irvine is the perfect combination of evolving youth and naiveté to round that out with Pip. The casting of a not-quiet-a-household-name Holliday Grainger as Estella was a smart choice (if done on purpose); being unable view the actor with preconceived ideas makes it easier to believe her coldness while empathising with her plight of loyalty and human nature. The film's seasoned veterans, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes, are magnificent - if you didn’t know any better, you’d think the role of Miss Havisham was written specifically for Bonham Carter, and Fiennes is simply one of those actors who can do no wrong.
This adaptation simply lacks justification and an original inkling.
Newell has trimmed the fluff of the novel, getting straight to the point and the crux of each character, while still keeping intact the core emotional connections and relations. The novel's ambiguous ending, however, sees a certain leaning towards the happy in what can be construed as a “Hollywood” copout, but it was an option to take nonetheless.
An unjustifiable adaption, it is beautiful in its design, direction and performances. For anyone who is a fan, a student or has never seen or read ‘Great Expectations’ before, this is an enjoyable trip to the cinema.