Some people were forced to read Great Expectations at school and others have chosen to delve into Charles Dickens of their own accord. Whatever your reason for watching the new film adaptation, you should prepare yourself for a rather pleasant surprise.
Directed by Mike Newell, who also helmed Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, this film is packed with faces from the Potter films. With Ralph Feinnes, who played Lord Voldemort, Helena Bonham Carter who was Bellatrix Lestrange, and Robbie Coltrane best known for playing Hagrid, it sounds a little like a Harry Potter story that has been twisted into a tale of Georgian era England. However, once the story begins, you will forget all notions of potions and broomsticks, and yes, become immersed in the ‘expectant’ world of Pip Pirrip.
Because the film is adapted from a Charles Dickens novel, you can be forgiven for thinking it will be dark and long, seeing as Mr. Dickens was paid by each instalment. However, it is brightened up by some surprising moments of comedy that make it very watchable.
David Walliams makes up about 70 percent of these moments, as he plays a wonderfully camp Uncle Pumplechook. Coiffed up to the nines and surrounded by gossiping ladies, Walliam’s natural flamboyance shines through and invites quite a few giggles from the audience.
Now, getting onto more serious matters. Ralph Feinnes gives a strong, memorable performance as Magwitch, the convict who Pip helps in the opening scenes. He is almost unrecognisable under that long hair and grime, but once you decipher the face that once terrified a generation as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, you can marvel at his adaptability. He gets the old English accent just right and at times, really manages to tug at the heartstrings.
Helena Bonham Carter plays Miss Havisham in the type of role she nearly always plays – beautiful, yet firmly on the dark side of crazy. Her huge hair and overall demeanour is particularly reminiscent of her role as the Red Queen in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Her performance is strong as always, although it might be nice to see her play a different type of role at some point.
The looming form of Robbie Coltrane is Mr. Jaggers in this adaptation. His character is gruff, yet with a sharp intelligence that keeps you unsure of where his true allegiances lie. Jason Flemyng is the blacksmith, Joe Gargery and he does a very good job of encapsulating the simplicity of country life. However, he also portrays the fierce loyalty that makes his character so endearing.
The grown-up Pip is played by Jeremy Irvine, who starred in War Horse earlier this year. The younger version of his character is played by his little brother Toby, who is brilliantly innocent as Pip in the first few scenes. His older brother then takes over and gives a charismatic, consistent performance, maintaining elements of that innocence, but marring it with heartbreak and disappointment as he starts to let those great expectations go to his head.
Helena Barlow plays the young Estella as the haughty girl who captures Pip’s heart. Holliday Grainger is then even more poised and cold as the grown-up version of the character, although she does let out glimmers of feeling here and there to make the character seem more human. It looks like they had fun playing around with the extravagant costumes in the film, especially Estella’s which are always wonderfully vibrant.
Given that this film is adapted from the Charles Dickens novel, there are bound to be some classic lines. The delivery of these often seems slightly stilted, so that even if you had not read the novel you would know that someone just said something that was important in the novel. This makes elements of the film quite predictable, although that is hard to avoid in a story that most people have already read. So it is not necessarily a bad thing.
From misty marshes to a bustling London, the 19 Century atmosphere of the story is well portrayed. It is clearly a modern retelling, with the tit-bits of today’s humour, yet it also captures the harshness of life at the time that is characteristic of the Dicken’s works.
Great Expectations comes out in the UK on Friday, 30th November.