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Home Reviews LFF 2012 Reviews London Film Festival Review: Great Expectations
London Film Festival Review: Great Expectations Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 21 October 2012 14:14

Raiph Fiennes, Great Expectations

Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Holliday Grainger, Helena Bonham Carter, Raiph Fiennes, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane

As each new version of Great Expectations arrives, the title Lowered Expectatinos seems more appropriate. Ever since David Lean’s definitive film, the playing field has felt crowded. Even the BBC produced a third (very admirable) adaptation last year. Do we really need another? To its credit, Mike Newell’s Great Expectations almost convinces us we do.

To recount the plot here feels almost as unnecessary as making a movie of it, but the film makes a strong enough entrance, opening with escaped convict Magwich (Fiennes) meeting Pip in a graveyard.

These initial scenes of Pip’s home life never quite come to life. Despite Jason Flemyng’s likeable, blokey blacksmith brother Joe, several jokes fall flat – David Walliams does no favours in that department. But once we are whisked away to London, via Miss Havisham’s ruined mansion and her cold-hearted ward, Estella, Newell’s version begins to find surer footing.

The main problem with it all is that there’s nothing really new here. In the last few years, I’ve seen Julius Caesar in prison, The Tempest as a sci-fi Japanese rock musical and Wuthering Heights turned into a raw, windswept masterpiece. Compared to those, Newell’s Great Expectations pales. It’s not bad, by any means – the rural landscapes are pretty, the music un-intrusive – but everything is fine. Just, fine. Even Raiph Fiennes as Magwich feels a comfortable choice; someone like Eddie Marsan would promise a far rougher tone perhaps more in fitting with David Nicholls’ straight-lipped script.

But while Nicholls takes some of Dickens’ humour out, he doesn’t skimp on the emotions, letting Pip and Estella’s anti-romance take centre stage.

What, then, of Miss Havisham? She’s almost nowhere to be seen – perhaps the most striking departure from tradition the film makes. Helena Bonham Carter’s take on the old dear is less scary and more sad, a muted wisp of a lady rather than a gothic tormentor. It’s an interesting choice, and a pleasant surprise given Bonham Carter’s potential to ham it up, but her quietly rotting home lacks the decaying horror that gives Dickens’ story some of its colour.

Fortunately, Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger seize the chance to steal the show – and good on them. The two younger leads are good, but these tender teens are excellent; Irvine’s Pip is determined and passionate, while Grainger’s bullied Estella evokes genuine sympathy from the audience, allowing us to really share Pip’s perspective.

It’s thanks to these two bright young actors that Newell’s unsurprising production is actually very engaging. Great Expectations? Go in with them lowered – and yours may be surpassed.