2012 marks the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens and the release of the 16th adaption of his thrilling novel Great Expectations.
This time, director Mike Newell offers a cross section of some of Britain’s best actors who supply the film with completely redeeming performances.Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Now Is Good) stars as Pip, the orphaned protagonist who is sent to London to become a gentleman at the expense of mysterious benefactor, Abel Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes) and the help of his lawyer, Mr Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane). Pip falls in love with childhood sweetheart Estella (Holliday Grainger) before learning that she has been manipulated by her estranged eccentric adoptive mother, Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter).
David Walliams offers comic relief as Pip’s Uncle Pumblechook, but the half-hearted role merely delivers a disappointment. His typecast role of eccentric transvestite come mentally challenged hospital patient or similar is inappropriate for this genre, even if he is wearing trousers.
If you ask me, casting Helena Bonham Carter as mouldy Miss Havisham was nothing short of genius. Her stellar performance provides the depth which the film lacks, successfully embodying the balance between insight and insanity, falling somewhere between Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and your mum when you spill red wine on the carpet.
However, there is a certain lack of attention to detail. The opening credits look like my Nan did them on her Nokia 3210, and Miss Havisham’s charred face made the audience do a small giggle.
Undoubtedly, the film does nothing to rival David Lean’s 1946 version, which is still considered the classic despite the numerous remakes since. The BBC seems to be falling into the Hollywood trap of recreation, with a TV version of Great Expectations released on BBC One just last year. The challenge of creating a feature film from a lengthy television series is like trying to cram the entire cast of Ben Hur in the back of a Daewoo Matiz.
Newell’s adaption is not the best we’ve ever seen, but it’s by no means the worst. A handsome picture though it is, it fails to provide any poised originality or postmodernity that was expected. Fans of the book will enjoy this cinematic retelling for what it is, but will agree that some stories should just be left alone.