Great Expectations on the red carpet

Last night, the 56th BFI London Film Festival came to a glamorous close with the European première of Mike Newell’s Great Expectations. London’s Leicester Square was awash with stars – and rain – so, wet-weather gear at the ready, TFR went down to ask the red-carpet goers a few questions.

David Nicholls (Writer)
What was the challenge of taking a story with a narrator in it and making a film without the narrator’s point of view?
Yes, that’s very hard, you lose the commentary. In the novel, Pip is telling a story about all the terrible mistakes he’s made in a very melancholy narrative voice. So when you lose that, you’re left with the words of the action and you have to rely on the actors to get that depth. Thankfully the actors are really extraordinary and one thing that has been very exciting about this project is the quality of the cast, who bring out so much of the depth and the complexity of the characters in the book. Dickens isn’t about caricature, it’s incredibly rich and I think that the characters get that across.

Holliday Grainger (Estella)

Your character, Estella, is very damaged, how did you get into that mind-set?
She is very damaged and that’s part of the complexity that you have to work with as an actor. You can’t quite understand Estella until the end. She has been starved of love as a kid, so that journey involves fighting against what she feels like she has been brought up to do and what she actually wants. It’s that rebellion against being a heartbreaker and wanting to respect your own heart.

What does it mean to you to have your film closing the London Film Festival?
It’s amazing. It’s such a great festival to be part of and to be here tonight amongst people who are so excited about the film, it’s a great thing to be part of.

Tamsin Outhwaite (Molly)
Your character, Molly, is quite strong and fierce, how was it playing her?
Yes, she’s quite a feisty chick. She is the birth mother of Estella and the love of Magwitch’s life, so it’s a tiny role really but it’s essential to the story.

Have there been any particular highlights for you?
Last night’s awards was a particularly exciting event, with Rust and Bone taking out Best Film and the fabulous Beasts of the Southern Wild taking out Best Feature and Silence in the House of God taking out Best Documentary. It was fantastic because all three films had their talent here at the festival representing them so that felt particularly exciting. Also, our surprise film last night, which was the UK premiere of Silver Linings Playbook, and when we brought David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper out on stage at the end, the audience just went completely crazy so that was a pretty special event as well.

What have been some of your personal favourite films?
I am very much a fan of a number of the films that have been directed by women. I think it was terrific to have a film like Fill the Void, which comes from a deeply religious Jewish perspective, directed by Rama Burshtein and to have her here to represent the film was a very special event. Likewise Wadjda which is really the first film to come out of Saudi Arabia and it’s directed by a woman. It focuses on a young girl who wants to get her own bike, when bike riding is forbidden. It embodies the spirit of independence and discovery that I think festivals are all about.

Ewen Bremner (Wimmick)
You play Wimmick in the film, tell us about your process of deciding how to play him
It’s really interesting, with Wimmick, I had a different approach than the director had. He saw him as a very benevolent character and I saw him as a proud, arrogant, self-pleased character. I really wanted to serve Mike Newell’s vision, so I had to find a way to meet him in the middle. I really look up to him and he does it very well.

Did you enjoy wearing the costumes?
Yes, it was great. We had layers and layers and layers, so much thought went into that side of it. At any one time I’m probably wearing about four coats, three waistcoasts and all kinds of other things. Each scene has to be different and each day had a lot of time in wardrobe getting it just right.

What was your favourite scene to film?
Probably the scene with Tamsin Outhwaite as Molly and Robbie Coltrane as Mr. Jaggers, where she beats him up and I have to try and protect him. She’s strong and tough. We had to do that a few times and I think we both came away with a few bruises.

Ben Lloyd-Hughes (Bentley Drummle)
Had you read any Charles Dickens or seen any adaptations before you were cast in Great Expectations?
I had read the book as a teenager, it was one of my favourite books of all time, so as soon as I knew that they were making a film of it, I wanted to be a part of it in any way shape or form. To get the part of Bentley Drummle was a dream. It was just an amazing book that I loved the themes of and I loved the storyline and that idea of love going through the generations. There’s nothing like a Dickens book when it’s done right. I’ve seen some good adaptations of books, I’ve seen some bad adaptations of books, but I’d never seen a Great Expectations adaptation.

What was it like playing a mean character?
Already in my young career, I’ve played some mean characters so I don’t really like getting cast as them because I wonder whether that means I am one. But I like to think that just because I can play that, doesn’t mean I am! Playing it is the best fun in the world, because if you think about your British politeness, you’re suddenly allowed to be basically the biggest idiot in the world. There’s a lot of freedom and joy to be found in that.

Did you enjoy wearing the costumes?
Yes, the costumes are amazing. The costume designer did an incredible job. We talked about everything and for a while we didn’t want the cotume to be too evil. My character’s so evil and if the costume made me look like the prince of darkness then everything would be going against me. I think we found a good balance of showing the decadence and wealth of the character without literally looking like Satan himself.

Jessie and Bebe Cave (Biddy and young Biddy)
How did you get involved with the film?
Jessie: For me, it was the standard audition, very normal. With Bebe, it was slightly different because I auditioned and they said they needed a young Biddy, so I said “oh I have a sister!”

Bebe: It was very exciting, I cried.

Did you guys like wearing the costumes?
Bebe: Yes, that was definitely one of the best bits.

Jessie: I don’t really enjoy them actually, because they’re very tight but they’re beautiful, the corsets and everything.

Had you read the book before you were cast in the film?
Jessie: I had read the book ages ago and then I re-read it for this. It’s always so great to have a book to go from, because you know so much more. Obviously the script has been concentrated so much.

You had the sister thing going on, Jeremy Irvine was also cast with his brother Toby. Did you guys get on well?
Bebe: Yes, it was so nice, the whole thing.

Jessie: It was a really nice atmosphere, because our mums were there and they all got on. It was really lovely.

Clare Stewart (Festival organiser)
How do you feel now that the festival is coming to an end?
It feels wonderful, we’ve had a fantastic response from audiences here, a 12 percent increase in attendance and I think it’s been an exuberant festival, with many great films on offer and over 570 filmmakers visiting us.

Mike Newell’s Great Expectations hits cinemas on 30th November, 2012.

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