Attached to this British period drama was either great anticipation or disinterest. Because such accolades came from people whose
opinions I may not always agree with, but do trust curiosity made me to step inside this latest adaptation. Great Expectations (2011)
Great Expectations (2011) Film Review
Young Pip only has one protector. Orphaned, the boy lives with his stern sister and her kind-hearted blacksmith husband, Joe (Shaun Dooley). Following an odd encounter with an escaped convict named Magwitch (Ray Winstone) on a cold Christmas day. The mysterious recluse, Miss Havisham (Gillian Anderson) wishes for a young boy to come once a week as a kind of playmate to her young impetuous adopted daughter.
Pip’s attendance of this request discovers a home shrouded in more than dust and shadows. But it’s to the young and beautiful Estella that Pip loses his young heart to. The teenage beauty is nearly as cold as her benefactor but the naïve Pip is drawn into their world. Wishing to create distance between her charge and Pip, Miss Havisham pays for his apprenticeship to train in the trade of blacksmith.
Years pass and Pip (Douglas Booth) grows into a fine-looking man. Out of nowhere, a well-known London attorney named Jaggers (David Suchet) informs Pip that a mysterious benefactor has settled a fortune on him. There are stipulations: Including never inquiring who his benefactor is until he reaches his majority. With prospects, Pip leaves for London but Miss Havisham pulls him back, and towards Estella (Vanessa Kirby) who returns from finishing school in Paris.
It’s hard to know where to begin with a production such as this. The opening frame – and beyond, of this miniseries is pure brilliance. It puts every single one of our senses on alert. The filming and set creates a dangerous, mysterious scene only intensified by the setting on the dark marsh land with characters whose purpose and intent we do not yet understand. Naturally if one is familiar with the book, you’ll recognize not only the players but who they will become. If you are unfamiliar with the plot, much of this will seem crazy, but the strange thing about Dickens is that his novels are so complex and mysterious no motivation is without intent.
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Since I had seen two earlier versions of this film, by far, this one is the best of the lot. Although I’ve not read the novel, a 3-hour miniseries is probably cutting a lot of corners but the production is “complete” and authentic to its purpose. Pacing comes across “off” or rushed a time or two but there should be an allowance for this. One thing production did not skimp on was its casting. The acting is brilliant in this movie particularly from Gillian Anderson. She owns the role of Miss Havisham. The character is a ghostly shell of a woman whose disappointment rules her life manifested in misery. Her fragile passive-aggressive attitude is a prison of her own making, instead of moving on and “being happy” as Pip once tells her she could have been. Sometimes, when there is one domineering performance, everyone else pales in comparison, that is fortunately not the
case here. Everyone holds their own including newcomers Booth and Kirby.
It’s hard to “like” any Dickens-esque story because of its themes. Great Expectations exposes how deeply flawed human nature can
be. It reflects the sorrows, regrets and tragedies that comprise life. Anyone who has experienced his works knows each are quirky at best, but innately depressing where pure evil lives within the story. This production does not have the same “bite” as prior movies. There aren’t the usual troubling shivers Dickens can sometimes cause. Fortunately, for the audience, despite its end being ambiguous, and almost as if it’s cut short, romantics will be happy. Combined with this romanticism, and breathtaking costuming, this film is a five-star stunner.
Whatever you think of him or his style, know this; Great Expectations, whether different from the novel or not is distinctively Dickens. Make no mistake.
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Content: The film would probably deserve a “soft” PG13-raing. Men are depicted as having been beaten with blood everywhere [twice], two others are strangled [one does die], and another is stabbed. One scene takes place at a “club” in which men can pick out a “lady of the evening” for a price [nothing graphic]; Pip is mocked for being a virgin. There are some tense moments and a woman is nearly murdered [off-screen]. Implications inform (bruising) that there’s abuse of a woman in her marriage; and another woman commits suicide by lighting herself on fire.