You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Great Expectations

Arriving mere months after a miniseries version also presented by the BBC, "Great Expectations" is a passable feature-length adaptation that does little to burnish the estimable screen legacy of a Dickens classic.

Pip - Jeremy Irvine Mr. Jaggers - Robbie Coltrane Miss Havisham - Helena Bonham Carter Magwitch - Ralph Fiennes Wemmick - Ewen Bremner Joe Gargery - Jason Flemyng Estella - Holliday Grainger Uncle Pumblechook - David Walliams Mrs. Joe - Sally Hawkins

Arriving mere months after a miniseries version also presented by the BBC, “Great Expectations” is a passable feature-length adaptation that does little to burnish the estimable screen legacy of a Dickens classic. Working from a tightly compressed screenplay by David Nicholls, director Mike Newell strikes the beats of a deservedly oft-told tale with dour competence but little in the way of dramatic inspiration or visual flair. Still, juicy performances by Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes in the designated scene-stealing roles of Miss Havisham and Abel Magwitch should prove enticing enough for arthouse patrons and Anglophiles to respond with favor.


Fiennes and Bonham Carter made a memorably witchy pair as Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films (one of which, 2005’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” was directed by Newell), and the actors bring their dark gifts to two scarcely less frightening roles here. Once again Fiennes has the task of scaring a little boy in a graveyard, energizing the film’s fog-cloaked opening scenes as an escaped convict who has a fateful encounter with a young orphan named Pip (Toby Irvine).


Making a less assaultive but no less vivid impression is Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, the hard-hearted spinster who has turned her estate into a cobwebbed mausoleum and her pretty adopted daughter, Estella (Helena Barlow), into a weapon against the male sex. Looking not so different from the title role she played in “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride,” Bonham Carter is an inspired choice for a role that typically skews older; her striking beauty, still plainly visible beneath her ghostly pallor, allows the character’s distant personal tragedy to feel freshly inflicted.


Elsewhere, however, the vitality seems to have been largely drained from this rote retelling. Dickens’ wondrous tapestry of incident, character and detail is reduced to a single thread of one-damned-thing-after-another developments, and the impact of memorable supporting characters such as Pip’s harridan-like older sister (Sally Hawkins) and the odious Uncle Pumblechook (David Walliams) feels particularly truncated. The bigscreen has always demanded a level of narrative concision, especially where Dickens is concerned, but this “Great Expectations” feels disciplined to a fault, lacking either the focused, sparkling intelligence of David Lean’s 1946 version or the bold revisionism of Alfonso Cuaron’s 1993 update, to name two more memorable adaptations.


The picture is on surer footing once Pip grows into a strapping young man (played by Toby Irvine’s older brother Jeremy) and finds himself unexpectedly fast-tracked into the upper echelons of London society. Newell and Nicholls pay careful attention to their protagonist’s persistent sense of social inadequacy; the shifting dynamic between the suddenly haughty Pip and his coarse but loving brother-in-law, Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng, excellent), represents the film’s most poignant strand. And Pip’s humble origins are not lost on the boorish Bentley Drummle (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), his chief rival for the affections of Estella (Holliday Grainger), now colder and lovelier than ever.


Handsome 21-year-old thesp Irvine, who came to prominence in last year’s “War Horse,” supplies sufficient empathy in the role of Pip, offsetting the character’s fish-out-of-water awkwardness with a fiery impetuousness. Robbie Coltrane (another Potter alum) delivers one of the film’s stronger performances as the formidable Mr. Jaggers, allowing nary a flicker of affection to temper his cold, professional countenance as he oversees Pip’s gentlemanly education.


Although John Mathieson’s widescreen lensing was not seen to its best advantage in digital projection at the Toronto fest screening reviewed, Jim Clay’s production design, Beatrix Aruna Pasztor’s costumes and the impeccably chosen English locations all contribute to an enveloping atmosphere of thick, muddy realism. But the pleasures of this adaptation are ultimately little more than a meager imitation of the riches Dickens achieved on the page. As the story runs its usual course, opening one skeleton closet after another, one senses the filmmakers treating their sacred text as a crutch, rather than something that would actually benefit from being imaginatively interpreted for the screen.

Great Expectations


Production: A Lionsgate release of a BFI, BBC Films and Unison Films presentation in association with HanWay Films and LipSync Post of an Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley, Number 9 Films production. (International sales: HanWay Films, London.) Produced by Woolley, Karlsen, Emanuel Michael, David Faigenblum. Executive producers, Zygi Kamasa, Norman Merry, Peter Hampden, Mike Newell, Ed Hart, Jana Edelbaum, Cliff Curtis, Charlotte Larson, Christine Langan. Co-producer, Laurie Borg. Directed by Mike Newell. Screenplay, David Nicholls, based on the novel by Charles Dickens.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), John Mathieson; editor, Tariq Anwar; music, Richard Hartley; production designer, Jim Clay; art director, Dominic Masters; costume designer, Beatrix Aruna Pasztor; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Lindsay; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Ian Wilson; re-recording mixer, Robert Farr; visual effects supervisor, Sheila Wickens; visual effects, LipSync Post; stunt coordinator, Andy Bennett; assistant director, Josh Robertson; second unit director, Shawn O'Dell; casting, Susie Figgis. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 10, 2012. (Also in London Film Festival -- closer.) Running time: 127 MIN.

With: Pip - Jeremy Irvine Mr. Jaggers - Robbie Coltrane Miss Havisham - Helena Bonham Carter Magwitch - Ralph Fiennes Wemmick - Ewen Bremner Joe Gargery - Jason Flemyng Estella - Holliday Grainger Uncle Pumblechook - David Walliams Mrs. Joe - Sally HawkinsWith: Olly Alexander, Toby Irvine, Helena Barlow, Tamzin Outhwaite, Ben Lloyd-Hughes.

More Film

  • Photograph by Svetlana Cvetko

    Blitz Films' Eryl Cochran Talks About Indie Film in Challenging Market

    Eryl Cochran heads production & development at production and financing shingle Blitz Films, where she works alongside company founders, filmmakers Nikolay and Sergey Sarkisov. Blitz, launched in 2018, is carving out a niche in the indie world with an eye for emerging talent. Blitz’s slate includes “Show Me What You Got,” directed by cinematographer Svetlana [...]

  • Echo in the Canyon review

    Film Review: ‘Echo in the Canyon’

    Arguably the most sturdily crafted and entertainingly anecdotal documentary of its kind since Denny Tedesco’s “The Wrecking Crew,” a similarly nostalgic celebration of artists who generously contributed to the soundtrack of the baby boomer generation, Andrew Slater’s “Echo in the Canyon” offers a richly evocative and star-studded overview of the 1960s Laurel Canyon music scene. [...]

  • Alain Berliner To Direct Cannes-Set ‘Second

    ‘Ma Vie en Rose’s’ Alain Berliner Directs Star Cast in ‘Second to Nun’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Page Three Media and Artemis Productions, which backed “The Danish Girl,” announced in Cannes “Second to Nun,” a new feature from Golden Globe winning director Alain Berliner. Berliner’s decades-ahead-of-its-time “Ma Vie en Rose,” the tale of a young transgender girl with dreams of growing into a mature woman and marrying the boy next door, was [...]

  • Artist Andrew Levitas Tackles Corporate Greed

    Artist Andrew Levitas Tackles Corporate Greed in Johnny Depp Starring 'Minamata'

    Andrew Levitas has carved out a unique place in the art world, having used his considerable skills across multiple creative platforms. A filmmaker, painter, sculptor, producer, writer, actor and photographer, Levitas is also the founder of Metalwork Pictures, a media production company that develops and produces original content, including his 2014 directorial debut, “Lullaby,” as [...]

  • Oliver Laxe

    Cannes: ‘Fire Will Come’s’ Oliver Laxe on Classicism, Avant-Guard, Egos

    CANNES  —    Spain’s Oliver Laxe returns to Cannes for the third time with“Fire Will Come” (O Que Arde), competing in Un Certain Regard— the first time a Galician-language film is selected for Cannes. He has pedigree. His first time round, in 2010, Laxe snagged a Fipresci nod for his Directors’ Fortnight title “You All [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content