Film Review: Great Expectations (2012)
Adaptations of classic novels inevitably confront a dilemma; how do you maintain authenticity when reworking a slow-motion story for an audience with a twenty-first century attention span? But the makers of the 2012 Great Expectations film had a smaller dilemma than usual. Great Expectations the novel, originally published in instalments, is fast paced, there are attention grabbing twists, and Dickensian characters, with their odd, visual mannerisms, are well-suited to film. So the pitfalls are shallower than usual – but they still exist. Director Mike Newell has surrendered to temptation and sexed up the action, so we’ve got a gruesomely burnt body and masses of extra, aimless menace. The stand-out performances are Holliday Grainger’s sultry but vulnerable Estella, and the Magwitch of Ralph Fiennes’, who capably surpasses Robert de Niro’s 1998 portrayal. But the interpretation of Miss Havisham is a squandered chance. Helena Bonham-Carter relishes playing flamboyant half-mad icons so the archetypal character of Miss Havisham should have been a triumph. But a curiously flat performance turns that initial excitement as stale and dusty as Miss Havisham’s ancient wedding cake. The greatest disappointment, though, is also the most fatally fundamental. Pip needs to be likeable enough that we forgive him for his shameless social climbing and abandonment of his decent but embarrassing friends. But he is too driven, and the viewer never really wills him towards a happy outcome. Nonetheless, there is enough here to entertain: fans of literary exactitude will be reasonably gratified whilst newcomers and radicals will still be enthused.