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3 1/2 stars -- not bad at all, but it takes a series . . .
on 26 January 2016
I think I would watch just about any adaptation of "Great Expectations." It's a great story, and there are so many characters of interest that it's almost inevitable that you'll see some fine performances. There's Alec Guinness, Finlay Currie, and John Mills" in David Lean's 1946 film. There are Ray Winstone as Magwitch and Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham in a 3-part BBC version from 2011, and now there's this Mike Newell film -- coming in at approximately the same length as Lean's -- with Ralph Fiennes (Magwitch) and Helena Bonham-Carter (Miss Havisham). It's not bad at all, it has a pair of young leads who have some chemistry between them, unlike Douglas Booth and Vanessa Kirby in the 2011 version. Pip and Estella as adults are played by Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger respectively, and they do very well. The relationship of Estella to Miss Havisham is very well realized by Grainger and Bonham-Carter. And just as Gillian Anderson's Miss Havisham was memorable in the 2011 series, so is Helena Bonham-Carter's, in a completely different interpretation but one that she makes compelling -- she's much more manipulative, controlled and controlling, and even playful than Gillian Anderson's marvelous self-harming, twitchy wreck. Ralph Fiennes is convincing and powerful as Magwitch, but he's at a disadvantage compared to Ray Winstone in the 2011 series. Simply put, we don't see enough of him after his return from exile. The director Mike Newell brings his movie in at around 2 hours -- the series ran for three, and as a result we get a better feeling for a developing relationship between Pip and Magwitch after the shock of Magwitch's revelation. And Winstone had time to develop Magwitch more fully as a character, and he gave a wonderful portrayal that blended humor and sentiment to an extent that Fiennes doesn't have a chance to do. I should add that Robbie Coltrane is a nasty piece of work as Jaggers, and very effective with it. In 2011, David Suchet's Jaggers, equally effective, was much more sympathetic, more like a decent man in a nasty business, hence the hand-washing made sense. So -- even though this movie has some real strengths that the series doesn't (mainly in the younger characters' casting), I've come to feel that one really needs a series to do justice to the book. The moral center has to be Pip's grown-up travails, and one needs to see these develop over time to have plausibility. Newell's scriptwriters do a fine job of getting a lot of information to us, but a lot of it is in narration by characters. We need to see more and hear about it less.
Of course, the whole opening movement of the book is almost begging to be dramatized, and all three versions I've seen so far are marvellously effective -- and in the showing of the marsh country, they are the most beautifully realized part of the book in sheer visual terms. There's so much to get into Pip's London story that it must be much more difficult to condense and dramatize, and yet that's where the moral interest of the story lies. My next "Great Expectations," when I get around to it, will be another serialized version. I hear Charlotte Rampling's Miss Havisham is worth seeing. But -- this one is by no means bad.