Great Expectations (2012)
Plot: Based on Charles Dickens’s acclaimed novel of the same name, the film tells the story of young Pip and his journey through infancy and adulthood.
Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Robbie Coltrane, Holliday Grainger, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes.
Pip, the protagonist of the story, is a young orphan who is brought up by his sister and her husband Joe Gargery. His only expectation is to live and work in the forge as a blacksmith. Suddenly, the mysterious figure of Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella enter his life, changing it forever. He will inherit some property and become, unexpectedly, a ‘gentleman’. But, money comes with a price, as it is revealed that the source of Pip’s fortune is not quite what he had imagined it to be.
I was very curious to watch this film, to see how the Dickens story had been adapted for the screen, and I must admit that I liked it very much. Having seen the BBC TV adaptation of 2011, I can easily conclude that this film is much better – the cast, the atmosphere; everything. One of the reasons it appealed to me may be that it was more truthful to the book, though even this version isn’t free from a few deviations from the book.
For example, Estella (Holliday Grainger) gives the impression of returning Pip’s feelings, which is not something clearly stated in the book. I guess the screenwriter (David Nicholls) chose to give the story a particular angle and he interpreted the character of Estella in a more straightforward way than it is in the original story. In fairness, other details are pretty accurate, like the last scene – which is heartbreaking, just as in the book – where the lines quoted are almost exactly the same.
I must add that I liked Holliday Grainger and Jeremy Irvine together – they made a lovely and charming on-screen couple. Speaking of the cast, the performances were all remarkable, but I especially appreciated Miss Havisham as portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter. She was a bit ‘off her head’, and a difficult character to grasp, but she had been obviously hardened by her past experiences and had turned into a lonely, manipulative woman that only wanted to use Estella to get revenge on the male sex in a perverse retaliation for the wrongs committed by her fiancé.
Holliday Grainger’s performance as Estella was very convincing; I could actually picture her in this role, and the little girl who played Estella as a young child had red-hair just like the actress, so although there isn’t a physical description of Estella in the novel, they paid a lot of attention to the details. Holliday Grainger’s insight into the character was gripping and I was very happily surprised.
As for Jeremy Irvine, he was as good of a Pip as Holliday Grainger was a good Estella; as I mentioned before they were suited for each other and shared an undeniable on-screen chemistry. I still think, and I probably always will think, that Jeremy Irvine delivered his best performance in the WW2 drama film The Railway Man (2013) alongside Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, but this role was one to look out for nevertheless.
I also enjoyed all of Pip and Estella’s scenes, and the friendship between Pip and Herbert (Olly Alexander) – it was funny and entertaining. I felt they should have been given a little bit more screen time. Ralph Fiennes also deserves a special mention for his portrayal of Abel Magwitch as he truly brought the character to life in every sense. He’s always captivating in all his performances and this was no exception.
As for the more technical aspects, I was intrigued by the opening shots of the marshes, the sequence of the graveyard and Pip’s meeting with Magwitch – all of which set the tone of the story and introduce you immediately to Pip’s world.
The director relies on the visual aspects of the story. An example of this is the portrayal of Miss Havisham’s relatives who are nicknamed the ‘vultures’ and are also quite tellingly dressed in black while hovering around her creepily. Miss Havisham’s bridal attire is also peculiar, in keeping with her description in the novel, and she makes quite an impression on the screen.
All in all, I think this is the best Great Expectations adaptation so far – I’m open to new ones but for now, featuring a cast with the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, this version of Dickens’s memorable story proves to be more than enjoyable.
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.