Review: Great Expectations

Isabella Nicholson 5 December 2012

Great Expectations

Mike Newell (12A) 128 mins

Not only did Newell (director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Four Weddings and a Funeral) close the Festival in style, he honoured the bicentenary anniversary of Dickens’ birth with a modern and glorious take on a literary classic. Great Expectations was a visually inspiring and emotionally-centred masterpiece, brought together with stand-out performances from some of the best in British cinema. While it may not include Dickens’ entire story, it focuses on the points which best bring out the main themes: revenge, social mobility and the capacity to love.

Pip (Toby and Jeremy Irvine) is a young orphan who becomes a gentleman of society with the help of an anonymous benefactor. Pip encounters many influences along the way, notably Miss Havisham (Bonham Carter) and Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes). The most important discovery in his coming-of age is Estella (Holliday Grainger), who captivates his ‘every thought’ until the very end.

Newell places a strong emphasis on the setting from the start – opening the film with sweeping camera shots of the misty Kent countryside and claustrophobic shots of the inner streets of London. Bonham Carter combines Havisham’s wide-eyed madness with calm reservation, making her an unusually compassionate character. The Irvine brothers successfully offset Pip’s fish-out-of-water awkwardness with fiery ambition as he comes of age.

If Newell’s aim was to make a formidable adaptation of the novel, he achieved this with one that places characterisation and setting in the foreground. If he aimed to remind the audience of Dickens’ contribution to literature, the fact that I now desperately want to read the book speaks for itself.

Isabella Nicholson