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Great Expectations (AF)


Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng, Holliday Grainger, David Walliams, Sally Hawkins, Ewen Bremner, Olly Alexander, Tamzin Outhwaite, Toby Irvine, Ben Lloyd-Hughes

Director: Mike Newell

What the Dickens?

No sooner have the BBC made and shown their miniseries of Great Expectations with (typically typecast) Ray Winstone as Magwitch and (considerably better) Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham than BBC films cheerfully spend our licence money on an alleged big-screen version whose real home is on the small screen and, very likely, as a school broadcast to accompany a set book. And of course, joining the BBC in funding the film is the British Film Institute, which now enjoys the role of rich uncle for would-be moviemakers by doling out Lottery Funds.

This time around the adaptation is by David Nicholls, who does a competent if unsurprising adaptation/compression of the Dickens original, which director Mike Newell (far, far away from the long-ago felicities of Four Weddings and a Funeral) brings to the screen competently enough but with little memorable flair.

The essential storyline is simple – a young lad, Pip, is befriended by a mysterious benefactor and rises from blacksmith’s apprentice to London gentleman as the result, finding love and meeting a deranged woman along the way. Dickens’ characters are what made the original and they help here to carry the film along without actually inducing sleep or, in the eyes of Dickens fanatics, too much in the way of life-threatening hypertension.

Except, that is, for Walliams’ deeply embarrassing church-hall-level-amdram allegedly comic turn as Uncle Pumblechook: if there’s any justice or sympathy for cinemagoers, he will never make another film.

Irvine handles the role of the grown-up Pip pleasantly enough, Coltrane brings Dickensian size to his portrayal of the lawyer Jaggers and Fiennes gives Magwitch more depth than one might expect of a role that essentially exists to kick off the narrative and then round it off at the end. Hawkins goes a tad too far as Mrs Joe while Grainger fails to go far enough to register as Estella, Pip’s love interest, leaving Bonham Carter to steal the show with her deliciously daffy portrait of the betrayed Miss Havisham, a characterisation that should (rightly) earn high praise from Tim Burton.

John Mathieson’s cinematography is a welcome asset, especially in the case of the bleak rural exteriors and the film looks good in the way an above-average British Heritage-style production should look. American television viewers who are tired of Downton Abbey (and who could possibly blame them?) will doubtless love it.

Alan Frank

UK 2012. UK Distributor: LionsGate. Technicolor.
129 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 29 Nov 2012