2012 Running time: 128 Certificate: 12 Rating: 4
KA Great Expectations

Synopsis

Aided by a sterling British cast, director Mike 'Four Weddings' Newell and writer David 'One Day' Nicholls do Charles Dickens proud with this faithful adaptation of what's arguably his finest work. Jeremy Irvine plays Pip, the humble country boy who becomes a gentleman thanks to an unknown benefactor. But his life has always been awash with strange characters, from the skulking convict Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes) to the bitter recluse Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter) and her beautiful but icy ward Estella (Holliday Grainger). Covering the story with great atmosphere and pace, there's much to recommend this version for newcomers and Dickensophiles alike.

Director

  • Mike Newell

Cast

  • Jeremy Irvine

  • Ralph Fiennes

  • Helena Bonham Carter

  • Jason Flemyng

  • Robbie Coltrane

  • David Walliams

Review

A case of expectations fulfilled if not exactly exceeded, the first big-screen adaptation of Dickens' personal favourite since Alfonso Cuaron's Hollywoodised 1998 update has 'BBC' running through it like a stick of Victorian rock.

Streamlined by David Nicholls (scripter of the Beeb's Tess Of The D'Urbervilles) and returned to its traditional setting by Mike Newell (who also followed Cuaron as a director for hire on the Harry Potter series) and the corporation's unstoppable period production machine, the story couldn't be in safer hands.

Naturally, it has the cast to match. Ralph Fiennes leads from the front as Magwitch, the scurvy criminal who sets the plot into motion by terrorising the young orphan Pip (Toby Irvine) in a rural churchyard.

This brings into play Pip's harridan of a sister (Sally Hawkins in panto mode) who raises Pip with her henpecked husband - the kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng).

Thickening the characterful mix is the oily tailor Pumblechook (David Walliams) who sends Pip to the crumbling local manor for the amusement of vindictive fruitcake Miss Havisham (the most Burtonesque character Helena Bonham Carter has ever played) and her haughty young charge Estella (Helena Barlow).

Little madam though she is, Pip is smitten. Sadly, the gulf in class between them means that they can never be.

On reaching adulthood, Pip (now played by Jeremy Irvine, replacing his little brother) is still working as Joe's apprentice when along comes lofty solicitor Mr Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane) to say that an anonymous patron has arranged for Pip to spend the rest of his life as a gentleman in London. What larks!

Amidst the grungy hubbub of the city, the lucky blighter soon makes a friend of Jaggers' clerk Wemmick (Ewen Bremner) and renews an old acquaintance in the poor but ambitious Herbert Pocket (Olly Alexander).

However, after joining a club for wealthy young oafs (think Victorian T-Birds), he immediately crosses swords with their sneering top dog Bentley Drummle (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) - essentially Danny Zuko with slower moves and a bigger dowry.

Alas, Pip too has become a total arse. So it comes as a shock that Estella (now played by Holliday Grainger) is still the coldest fish this side of Billingsgate.

But that's just one of the myriad revelations, manipulations and long-buried secrets that make up the tale.

With few characters to warm to and enough plot to fill a dozen nights in the TV parlour, turning Dickens' doorstop into a single, fluid piece of cinema is no mean feat.

Yet while it's true that some momentum and clarity is lost in the final quarter (with so many matters to resolve it was almost inevitable), it's to the credit of all involved that no one will be itching to leave their seats.

And if you're in the cramming business, it's the only set of revision notes you'll need.

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