Great Expectations

Avoiding the obvious pun, let’s just say PIERS RILEY-SMITH’S high hopes were dashed in his review of Dickens’ much adapted epic.

| UPDATED bbc Bellatrix Lestrange brian blessed david walliams Dickens Gillian Anderson Great Expectations Harry Potter helena bonham carter Holliday Granger Jeremy Irvine Magwitch Marley Mike Newell Miss Havisham Mr Jaggers pitt club Ralph Finnes Robbie Coltrane Voldemort

Whenever I see any screen adaptation of Dickens, I tend to think they should list the man himself as the main producer.

I imagine the director must almost feel Dickens’ hand akin to Marley’s Ghost, working the camera from beyond the grave. Indeed, it takes a brave and imaginative director to put a unique spin on a Dickens’ novel – sadly this is not one of those directors or one of those films. Mike Newell’s take on Great Expectations is, for the most part, nicely shot and, as with any BBC film, the sets and costumes are in impeccable order. British film has always been competent at putting on a good costume drama, but it just fails to make an impact on what has become a crowded market.

In case you didn’t know, Great Expectations tells us of a young blacksmith boy (Jeremy Irvine) who is funded by a mysterious benefactor to go to London and become a ‘Gentlemen’ (which the film translates as “utter twat”), and he does so in the hope of wowing his childhood love Estella (Holliday Granger) who is under the control of the secluded spinster Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter). It’s a classic story and – even though it is 151 years old – I won’t reveal any more of its fantastic twists. The casting of the film is a mix of reasonably unknown young acting talent beside the more established British film actors (with David Walliams thrown in for good measure).  It almost seems as if the casting director had looked to the Harry Potter saga for inspiration here, with Robbie Coltrane hamming it up as the lawyer Mr Jaggers, Ralph Finnes playing Magwitch (who comes across more like a bearded Voldemort) and Helena Bonham Carter in the vital role of Miss Havisham.

The acting is mixed. The best performance for me was that of Jason Flemyng as Joe the Blacksmith. I always found the character Joe to be rather irritating – here however he is portrayed with something that the rest of the performances lack: depth. The scene where Joe visits Pip in London is one of the best in the film: the stark transformation of Pip into a Gentleman (again read “Twat”) juxtaposed against the kind hearted Joe looking lost and drowning in the urban sea of London is an endearing moment. The majority of the rest of the performances are more or less forgettable, with no one really putting in a bad job but on one excelling either. I know some of the characters are meant to be heartless, but that doesn’t mean they have to look blankly off into the distance in every scene.

The character of Miss Havisham must be one of the most sought after roles going for a mature actress.  It is also the sort of integral part that can make or break the film. Helena Bonham Carter would, in the minds of many, be the perfect casting – her disheveled, delirious style suiting the role perfectly. However she was without doubt the weakest part of this film. For some reason, her adaption of Miss Havisham is part pantomime villain, part Morticia from the Adams Family and part Brian Blessed. It is only in the last scene that Bonham Carter remembers she is a fantastic actor and acts the part well. Compared to the more understated approach that Gillian Anderson brought to the BBC television series, this seems like a hammer in the face of the audience. Yes, we get it… she is evil!

Overall, it is not a bad film. Bonham Carter’s performance is not enough to sink it and the plot (not deviating from the book) is enchanting. The problem is that this film was pointless. BBC films developed it, but only a year ago the BBC created a fantastic television adaptation. In a world of Great Expectations adaptions this feels rather middle of the road. There are better versions out there and more original ones too. If you want to see a cockney, hairier Voldemort or what a jilted Bellatrix Lestrange might look like maybe go see this. Otherwise, save your money and find a copy of the 2011 BBC TV version.

In that one, at least Pip does not go on to join the Dickensian version of the Pitt Club.