Last year, the works of Dickens celebrated a milestone, and with that are a handful of new adaptations. Not the least of which was not one but two re-makes of this. Typical Dickens, Great Expectations (2012) is dark and not without its finer points.
Great Expectations (2012) Film Review
Young Pip is an orphan who’s coldhearted sister (Sally Hawkins) ill-treats him. His only friend is Jo (Jason Flemyng), his sister’s husband. Once he comes of age, he’ll step into Jo’s shoes as the local blacksmith, but it’s on a cold Christmas day that changes Pip’s life forever. Following an encounter with an escaped prisoner (Ralph Fiennes), Pip takes food to the prisoner, showing him kindness where no one else does. Later he watches as the prison guards haul the man back to jail. Shortly thereafter, he’s summoned to the large, dilapidated manor house not far from where Pip lives.
Inside, the lady of the house is Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), a woman in a wedding gown that’s in tatters. Especially odd is her request of Pip’s presence to play with her young ward, Estella. It takes little for Pip to become smitten with the young beauty. In the following years, Pip (Jeremy Irvine) settles into his role as Jo’s apprentice while longing to be a gentleman. His wish comes true when he learns he’s the beneficiary of a large fortune. The one stipulation is that he never question who gifts this to him and with barely a backward glance, the naïve country boy leaves for London. It’s here where his life again tangles with the lovely, educated Estella (Holliday Grainger).
No matter how many adaptations Dickens classic literature gets, I still see them. This particular title didn’t need a re-make so much as his other, lesser-known books do, however it’s the script that made the rounds. As a Victorian story, this isn’t a bad one. In terms of an epic mystery, this isn’t Dickens best – or it doesn’t transition unto the screen as his best.
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Making comparisons between this and Masterpiece’s adaptation of 2011 is a given. And to some extent the 2011 film benefits from better direction, pacing and in important roles, acting. Where this clocks in at a mere 123 minutes, the older version gets a full three hours and that extra hour shows. Here, there is excellent set-up. Adapted for the screen by David Nicholls and directed by Mike Newell, this takes a lighter approach, a bit more subtle satire than serious, authentic story-telling.
This one couples veteran talent with a pair of up-and-comers and usually, this compliments all of the performers. Here Carter plays a more “comedic” version of the passive-aggressive Miss Havisham. With her eye glass and antics, she’s less pathetic. Save for perhaps a scene she begs for forgiveness, her screen time pales in comparison to the impression Gillian Anderson leaves us with in this same role. I did quite like Irvine. He’s good-looking and plays his transformation from country boy to conceited city boy with ease. Similarly he and Holliday are match well. Their chemistry is subtle but always present in their few scenes together (which is limited in comparison).
Inspired by modern fashion, many of the costumes have an “edge,” meaning this is more of a “cold” design rather than colorful and pretty. They tend to match the mood and personalities of these characters, which then sets a mood. Estella is often in ensembles that resemble the wide sweeping lines of duster jackets and her ballroom gown is as dark as the fierce hairstyle she wears. What the production does well is the visits into the past. It’s interesting to see how a writer imagines Miss Havisham’s wedding day or why she’s heart-broken. Also, to see the first meeting between Estella and her is precious. What this version does, it does well including the deception of the fragile nature of humans.
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You can find Great Expectations (2012) digitally on Amazon Video
Content: the film rates PG13 for one murder in which the victim is strangled – the person attempts to fight back by stabbing the attacker with scissors [there is some blood]; another person tries to straggle another man. There is a death in a body of water. One minor implication suggests a woman was abused, and a child mistreated. There’s two or three scenes of drunkenness at a men’s club.