By – Nadia Attia – People think that they know Great Expectations, but ask yourself – do you?
By – Nadia Attia
People think that they know Great Expectations, but
ask yourself – do you? Or do you really only remember Miss Havisham doused in cobwebs or that
chilling graveyard scene? The Dickens novel is iconic yet only one or two of
its characters shine like beacons when its name is mentioned and probably then
only due to the 1946 David Lean film
or the recent BBC TV series. Mike Newell
(Four Weddings And A Funeral) and
his screenwriter David Nicholls (One Day) aim to change all that.
For Newell, the sacred text
isn’t actually the novel, it’s the Lean movie – “chunks of which I very
carefully ripped off,” he laughs. “Although I do think David Lean’s
ending was a cop out by going with the traditional happy ending.” Dickens
himself wrote alternative endings to his novel, so even he wasn’t convinced of
how Pip’s fortunes played out but it’s now up to the modern cinema audience to
decide whether Newell’s pitched it right.
Dickens’ characters often teeter towards the grandiose, arch, grotesque and
theatrical when on screen, so it’s refreshing to find that Newell allows
characters such as Pip and Estella to display sexiness and raw emotion without
seeming over the top. “I think Dickens is a much subtler writer than he’s
allowed to be,” says Nicholls, himself a successful novelist, who has now
developed a forté for adapting novels for the big screen (his own included).
“I find Great Expectations
incredibly emotional and heartbreaking. It has a brilliant evocation of
unrequited love and of youth,” he continues. “It’s essentially a
story about Pip trying to find a father figure, and about difficult
relationships between parents and children.”
Of course, it’s also a mark of acting talent when you can have larger-than-life
characters that display nuance and subtlety and Newell has enlisted a great
cache of talent to work hard for him. Of special mention is Robbie Coltrane in the role of Mr.
Jaggers who is utterly believable whilst inhabiting, like most of the
characters in Great Expectations, a
decidedly grey moral ground. Ewen
Bremner also steals a few scenes as hapless, gangly clerk Wemmick. And Jeremy Irvine, known for his leading
role in Spielberg’s War Horse, holds
his own against Ralph Fiennes‘s
Magwitch. “It makes it so easy for me imagining Magwitch as this scary
character because acting opposite Ralph Fiennes is f*cking scary!” says
the young British actor. “Most of the time there were just two actors in a
scene, no big spectacles or CGI, and I’ve never been happier” he beams.
Helena Bonham Carter – the striking
poster-girl for all things kooky – stars as the moribund Miss Havisham in what
appears to be lazy casting by Newell. Where Gillian Anderson delicately shone as Havisham in the BBC
production, Bonham Carter feels too big for the role and offers nothing new.
Similarly, David Walliams overpowers
early on as a comedy relief character and grates against the film’s brooding
Newell chooses to stick to a very traditional and ordered re-telling of the
story yet Great Expectations does
feel fresh due to its strong performances and the generous screen time given to
interesting ‘minor’ characters. The film was chosen to close the 2012 London
Film Festival and certainly flies the flag for quality British drama and
homegrown acting chops but it’s sadly
not as inventive as it could have been. Although an enjoyable watch that’s sure
to tickle the fancy of costume drama fans as Christmas approaches, this won’t
be the last, or definitive, version of the classic tale.