views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Great Expectations (12A)
Vue, West End
19th November 2012


With 3 series of Downton Abbey and counting, period drama seems to be back in vogue. I'm not knocking Great Expectations, it was after all considered by Dickens himself to be his best work, but Downton fever must surely be the only reason for rehashing a story that has been made and remade so many times already.

For a big screen adaptation, it seems only right to give the role of the book's crazy lady to the rather fabulous Helena Bonham Carter. However, she brings a more subtle quality than expected - having seen her in action before - and there is little need to list any of the films she's starred in, pick one - her performance here seems very restrained by comparison. Perhaps Mike Newell felt taking it further would not be in keeping with the original novel, but Dickens' jilted bride was positively off her rocker, driven almost mad with grief and betrayal. Bonham Carter's change of heart has just the right level of emotion, but in her earlier scenes, it does often feel like she should have been allowed to do more. This is no criticism of the actor, we know she's capable of madness, but a more of a slightly question mark over the direction.

With no older Pip narrating the tale, we rely heavily on feelings the characters display in the present. Playing another teenager, Jeremy Irvine generally opts for the same tall, dark and broody tack he took as Adam in Now is Good. There are no Mr Darcy moments, emerging from a lake dripping wet, but nonetheless Irvine does look dashing in period clothing and will continue to win admirers. He also pulls off a particularly good selfish brat - the way his Pip treats Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng) when first reunited with him in London is just as undeservedly cruel and thoughtless as the older Pip recalled with shame in Dickens' pages.

Pip's rejection of Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes) is also well executed. Magwitch's love for his 'dear boy' is touching, unsettling and perfectly subtle. Bonham Carter may have toned down her performance a little for our liking, but Fiennes gets the balance spot on his character.

Holliday Grainger is meant to give a cold performance as the beautiful Estella, groomed by Miss Havisham (Bonham Carter) to break as many hearts as possible without ever being affected by desire herself, and this she accomplishes. When Estella rejects Pip's attentions, we see something close to regret worn on her face, but not quite as sentimental as that.

Robbie Coltrane, and Olly Alexander also provide sterling support as Mr Jaggers and Herbert Pocket. David Walliams' cameo as Uncle Pumblechook, together with Sally Hawkins' Mrs Joe, create some humour at the start of the film that admittedly does get the laughs, but feel a little out of place, given the tone of the rest of the piece.

Writer David Nicholls is largely faithful to the original novel, being no stranger to adaptations with Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Starter for Ten, One Day and an episode of Shakespeare Retold under his belt. A few minor tweaks do appear here and there, writing out the subplot with Mrs Joe and glossing over Miss Havisham's poor relations. There are no new fantastical twists to the story, but Dickens' tale of heartbreak and deception is full of enough of those as it is. Nicholls quite rightly is respectful of his source material.

However, with so many great versions, we do need to ask what this particular offering brings to the table. It's a perfectly competent movie, but it's been done before, as recently as last year in the BBC's superior small screen mini-series starring Gillian Anderson.

If you're one of the twelve people that haven't seen an adaptation of this before, it's worth the price of the cinema ticket. However, if you have caught this before, you can probably put the two hours to better use. Going in, we had no great expectations, but we still can't shake off the feeling of deja vu.

Great Expectations was released in the UK on 30th November 2012.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts