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March 25, 2013 | by  | in Arts Film | [ssba]

Great Expectations

Directed by Mike Newell

Adaptations of the works of Charles Dickens seem to come thick and fast these days, and it’s often hard to see what the latest version contributes to our understanding of these classic tales. Like so many others, the latest version to hit cinema screens, Mike Newell’s great expectations, fails to tread any new ground. The film comes off feeling flat, due to dubious plotting and an inability to capture Dickens’ inimitable tone. What the audience is left with is a mildly entertaining picture, but one that never truly connects with, or understands, the material it draws upon.

For those unfamiliar with this English classic, Great Expectations traces the life of the orphan Pip, as he grows from the adopted son of a rural blacksmith, into a London gentleman. However, in an effort to convey the book’s admittedly convoluted main plot, Great Expectations proceeds at a somewhat breathless pace, inundating the audience with information via seemingly endless flashback sequences. There isn’t any room for plot points to resonate, simply because each moment passes so quickly and becomes lost in an overwhelming tide of exposition.

Not only is the film poorly paced, but despite cramming in an immense amount of information, it also fails to evoke the unique spirit of the novel. Dickens’s scathing social commentary is present but it’s often reduced to mere farce; a crass form of comedy rather than the book’s more nuanced satire. Additionally, the film’s bland design aesthetic exhibits none of the flair of Dickens’s prose. Iconic locations, such as Mr Wemmick’s ‘castle’, are mere shadows of their literary selves. Besides some stunning shots of the English marshes, the only real coup is Miss Havisham’s dilapidated mansion, which feels appropriately twisted and forlorn, if slightly overdone.

However, what keeps Great Expectations watchable is the breadth of talent within the acting ensemble. A cast of British luminaries breathes life into Dickens’s creations, delivering the meaty dialogue with relish. Helena Bonham Carter’s Miss Havisham is particularly memorable, perfectly conveying the callous, manipulative nature of the jilted bride. Unfortunately, Jeremy Irvine fares less well as the protagonist Pip. His wide-eyed, callow approach to the character means that Pip’s development never feels organic or believable, but merely forced by the script.

And this flaw is indicative of Great Expectations as a whole. Try as he might, Newell’s rendition never feels like anything more than a contrived journey through a museum of classic scenes.

Verdict: 2.5/5


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