Film review: Great Expectations

19:48, Mar 10 2013
Great Expectations
GREAT PERFORMANCE: Ralph Fiennes injects plenty of charisma into playing the criminal Magwitch in Great Expectations.

Directed by Mike Newell. Featuring Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes.

Getting a decent sized novel faithfully on screen is almost always more than any one film can ever hope to do.

So we learn to admire the craft of the screen writers and film-makers who can strip a book back to its most essential of bones, and then cover them in flesh so attractive and diverting that we won't notice that great chunks of the book are completely absent.

I thought Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights was a terrific example, although the bloke who runs the cinema tells me that the reviewers were about the only people in Wellington who bothered to go see it.

And now this, this Great Expectations. It's a bold take on the Dickens, but I don't think there's anything about it that will offend fans of the book, or any other filmed adaptation. Nothing is jarringly updated, and plenty of the dialogue is lifted straight from the page. And, most importantly, it works.

Jeremy Irvine is too callow and and insubstantial to make much impression as Pip, but around him Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, and Robbie Coltrane turn their Harry Potter reunion gig into a veritable thesp's riot.


Bonham Carter makes for a disconcertingly young Miss Havisham, but having the 'old spinster' played as a woman with much of her sexuality still undimmed adds a tension to the character that works very well on screen.

This Havisham's bitterness and cruelty is credible and fresh, and is all the more frightening for it.

Meanwhile Fiennes rips into Magwitch with all the charisma he can bring to bear, and Coltrane is clearly enjoying getting his jowls around the great fruity mouthfuls of dialogue that Dickens awarded the lawyer Jaggers.

Director Mike Newell (Bad Blood, Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) keeps his scenes brief, gets in close, and avoids anything too stagey or theatrical.

Aided by David Nicholls' concise and propulsive script, and with the great John Mathieson (Gladiator, Robin Hood, X Men: First Class) getting back to his British indie roots behind the lens, this is a pacy, inventive and raffish take on the book.

I enjoyed it far more than I was expecting to.

The Dominion Post