Great Expectations (2012). Film Review.

Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating * * *

Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Holiday Grainger, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng, Toby Irvine, Ewan Brewner, Sally Hawkins, David Walliams, Tazmin Outhwaite, Daniel Weyman, Jessie Cave.

The trouble with classics is their over use of adaptation and counter adaption. It doesn’t feel like five minutes since the B.B.C. bought out their big budget Christmas special for 2011 to television audiences and now just in time for the festive season once more, the cinema goers are treated to another version of Charles Dickens’ excellent Great Expectations.

The scenery, the bleak beauty of the Kent countryside was captured on film at its possible best and served as wonderful dichotomy to the brutality of the 19th century penal code. The church acting as the back drop as the meeting place between the criminal Magwitch and Philip Pirrip. What lets down the initial opening confrontation is that in this Ralph Fiennes just doesn’t come across as the major villain, the soulless creature whose life is saved by Pip, as he has been so effectively in previous films throughout his long and illustrious career.

It is always difficult to compare two versions of the same film with each other but it’s hard not to when one has been produced within a year of another. In this respect, however a great actor Ralph Fiennes is, he doesn’t have the same gravitas as Ray Winstone from the previous part.

Where the two recent versions both excel is in their choice of the bitter and twisted and ultimately doomed Miss Havisham. The jilted spinster was portrayed in 2011 by the magnificent Gillian Anderson and in the 2012 re-make by another British screen legend, the quirky and spell binding Helena Bonham Carter. Both women bring something incredibly special to the screen in either guise but whereas Ms. Anderson played it with solitude, despair and overpowering sense of loneliness, Ms. Bonham Carter bought an element of destruction, of fallible whimsy and brutal sly subterfuge which gave the film a much neater fit.

The story is also let down by the apparent disregard of Pip’s sister at the beginning of the story. The beating she gives Pip and her husband, portrayed brilliantly by Jason Flemyng, at the start is as much as the viewer gets before she dies off screen of a heart attack. The callousness of the relationship between the terrifying woman and the two men is not satisfactorily explored and leaves an empty feeling which is never quite sated.

Any fan of Dickens’ work will be more than pleased to see any adaption of his work, especially this the 200th anniversary of his birth, however, sometimes not every revision is worth going to the cinema for.

Ian D. Hall