Great Expectations (2012)

Source: Wikipedia
A little over three months ago, I was required to watch the 1946 version of a Charles Dickens novel I ashamedly knew very little about. I had stupidly missed out on educating myself on any of the bucketfuls of previous adaptations - including last year's television series.

Of course, I had to watch it as Empire had awarded it 5 stars, but on my first viewing I really didn't understand what all the fuss was about. I figured that maybe everyone was wrong; perhaps Dickens didn't know how to use a quill and the film's director David Lean was really a misguided fool, mistaken for a genius by some film critics at the world's best selling movie magazine. I mean, what do they know anyway? I watched it again to reaffirm my stone crafted belief - only to find that someone had blunted my chisel. It was I who was the fool, as misguided as Pip and tripping over my ego in the process.

While I'm in confession I didn't realise that a 2012 remake was in the pipeline until a couple of months ago as my eyes were opened once more by the pages of Empire with a little help from the British Film Institute (Great Expectations was the star at the close of the London Film Festival). It is a film I wouldn't have given a second glance to until I understood the majesty of Lean's version. As I read further into it, I found that a dark fantasy was about to come true. Helena Bonham Carter was cast to play perhaps the scattiest and most isolated character in literary history. A role she was born for.

Thanks to Odeon's 25% off Tuesday deals for its Premiere Card customers, I caught a perfectly quiet viewing with the cinema almost empty. No children, rustling popcorn or Nokia ring tones to spoil the viewing pleasure. The film kicks off just as its most famous predecessor did on the lonely marshes where Magwich (Ralph Fiennes), an escaped convict, runs free. The atmosphere isn't up there with Lean's, with a discerning lack of fog occasionally making the film look like a running scene from Chariots of Fire.

Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham
At this point I realised that many of my views on the film would be impared by the obligatory comparisons. Regardless, I sat back, munched some ice cream and watched Pip finally meet a certain Miss Havisham. Bizarrely, Bonham Carter didn't fit the role as much as I expected her to. Sure, she's the standout, but I had personally hyped her to perhaps be the saviour of a film that was always going to struggle in the shadows of history. Alas, she was not. Quirky, lonely, scatty and creepy, yes. Miss Havisham, oddly no. It's not her acting - it's the fact there there is very little dust in a room littered with cobwebs and age. The small amounts of detail that make Miss Havisham were sadly lacking.

Where the film does succeed is in its use of colour (a technology that was commercially unviable in the 1940's). The contrast between Estella and the rest of the scene is often breathtaking as her beauty is enhanced by the bright blue tones in her dress offset against the muggy browns of the City. The garden scenes around Miss Havisham's house reflect vibrant greens offset by the lonely dull tones of her house - really emphasising on the life that she is missing out on.

This isn't the only factor that will draw the Christmas crowds in, as Mike Newell's 2012 version also features a stellar cast ranging from the consistent Robbie Coltrane as the pompous lawyer Jaggers to the comical bumblings of David Walliams as the aspiring Pumblechook. Despite what initially looks like an irregular mismatch of celebrities, it is clear that they have been well-casted for their roles.

It is also easier to understand than the 1940's version and more accessible in the way that it hand-feeds the audience much of Dicken's story - while Lean's gives more detail, there is an air about it that assumes you know the characters at the very least.

There is no real benefit to seeing it in the cinema, but if you are looking for films to watch this Christmas then give it a whirl. Just don't go in with the same misguided Great Expectations as I did.


  1. One thing I might add is that Ralph Fiennes is rather brilliant. I didn't recognise him when he came on, yet i knew he was playing Magwich.
    It was a surprise. I knew he was good, but not that good. x

    1. I'm glad you added that note, because I was curious about how Fiennes fared.

  2. I second that, I'd forgotten that Fiennes was in the film until I'd finished the review. At that point I figured it was too late to shoehorn in a Harry Potter reference, what with Bonham Carter too. Fiennes shows once again that he is superb, even while heavily dressed up.


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