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Great Expectations (2012) - Review

Great Expectations

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

MIKE Newell’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations may be the first cinematic translation since David Lean’s seminal 1946 version but it still lacks freshness.

It also arrives in the wake of the BBC’s Christmas revival earlier this year, which saw Gillian Anderson turn in one of the most memorable interpretations of Miss Havisham of all-time.

All of this puts Newell’s version on the back-foot. And while solid, well acted and nicely directed, it struggles to really leave any kind of lasting impression other than a ‘been there, seen it before’ kind of appreciation.

The story, as ever, focuses on blacksmith’s boy Pip (played by War Horse‘s Jeremy Irvine), whose life is transformed by a mystery benefactor that asks him to travel to London so that he can gain an education and improve his social standing.

In the course of his journey from boy to man, Pip meets the likes of the eccentric Lady Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), who introduces him to her daughter Estella (Holliday Grainger), and the criminal Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes), all of whom have a major bearing upon his life.

Newell’s approach to the story is to embrace the best parts of past adaptations while remaining as faithful to Dickens’ source text as possible. It creates a worthy piece of cinema that may play best to the Dickens purists.

But it lacks much invention or any real risk-taking, which certainly isn’t enough to erase the memory of the superior BBC TV version or, perhaps, even past favourites.

That said, Irvine continues to grow as a young actor, Fiennes is typically solid as Magwitch, Bonham Carter intrigues as Miss Havisham (while existing in Gillian Anderson’s shadow) and Grainger adds a touch of welcome feistiness to Estella.

There’s solid support, too, from the likes of Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng and Ewen Bremner, which keeps things watchable. While Newell’s attention to period detail is eye-catching, too, and the pivotal sequences in the story are typically well executed.

Hence, this latest adaptation is good rather than great, even if it does ultimately underwhelm by virtue of its over-familiarity to audiences.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 129mins
UK Release Date: November 30, 2012