Sunday, 8 September 2013

Great Expectations (2012)

Very recently we've had not one but two adaptations of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and the BBC have been behind both of them (which is quite weird if you ask me). The BBC produced a miniseries which aired in 2011 and also co-produced a film version which came out in 2012. This film was directed by Mike Newell; who has directed the films Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mona Lisa Smile, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Prince of Persia. The film was written by the author David Nicchols and it features a very star-studded cast of actors. The film features War Horse actor Jeremy Irvine as Pip, Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, David Walliams as Mr Pumblechook, Robbie Coltrane as Mr Jaggers, and Sally Hawkins as Mrs Joe Gargery. Estella is played by the actress Holliday Grainger, who was in an episode of Merlin and has had minor roles in the recent Jane Eyre and Anna Karenina adaptations.

Great Expectations isn't actually one of my favourite Dickens stories so I guess it's not surprising that I wasn't overwhelmingly in love with either of these recent adaptations. However, I do consider the 2012 film to be the better condensed version of the book. Now I suppose that die-hard fans of the book would probably feel more inclined to watch the 2011 miniseries over this film because of its longer running time. Whereas the 2012 film is just over two hours long, the BBC miniseries is a full three hours long. But having said that there are only a couple of occasions when this film felt rushed to me and all of the major scenes from the book are still intact. As an adaptation it's mostly very faithful and David Niccholl's script actually uses quite a bit of Dickens' original dialogue. Apparently Great Expectations is Nicholl's all-time favourite novel and he definitely shows a lot more reverence to it than Sarah Phelps' script does. The 2012 film captures the book's black sense of humour a bit better and I recognised far more book quotes in it than I did in the 2011 miniseries. The script also includes many of the smaller details from the book like Miss Havisham only having one shoe, Herbert Pocket calling Pip "Handel" and humming "The Harmonious Blacksmith", Joe Gargery's song at the Forge, etc. This film even includes Mr Wemmick's elderly father and their home and drawbridge! And we get to see Pip's childhood friend Biddy! Whilst I can't say that I'm a huge fan of Biddy - she's too perfect for my liking - it was still really nice to see her. The younger and older versions of Biddy are played by the sisters Bebe and Jessie Cave and both of them do a lovely job. Some viewers might recognise Jessie from her role as Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter films. There are quite a few Harry Potter actors in this film actually. Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange and Hagrid are all in it! Of course by accommodating Biddy and the Aged Parent into this two-hour adaptation the script does have to make a few omissions: Pip's sister dies much earlier in this film than she does in the book and the character of Orlick is removed altogether. However, these are the only major changes that the film makes.

Another reason why I rate this film more highly than the miniseries adaptation is due to its cast. Apart from a few notable exceptions, the acting in this film is stronger than the acting in the 2011 miniseries. Ralph Fiennes is excellent and makes for a far better Magwitch than Ray Winstone. I found his later scenes with adult Pip quite moving. Jason Flemyng made for a lovely Joe Gargery and David Walliams made for an entertainingly over-the-top Pumblechook.

I really enjoyed the leading actors in this film too. This Estella is far more gorgeous than the plain Estella of the 2011 version! Unlike the 2011 version I could actually understand why Pip was dazzled by this version's Estella. Holliday Graiger is strikingly beautiful, she looks like a woman from a pre-Raphaelite painting. Her acting is excellent in this film. When I read the book I never got the impression that Estella had any love for Pip at all until possibly the final scene - but with this adaptation it was different. Grainger's Estella is still haughty and supercilious but this time she does seem to have romantic feelings for Pip. It's just that, because of her upbringing, she's confused by these feelings and doesn't really know how to show them. Grainger played this really well. I'm not really sure how true this is to the book but I really enjoyed this interpretation. It makes Estella's character more human and sympathetic. She's not just a one-dimensional ice queen. It also meant that Pip's love for Estella didn't seem quite so ridiculous in this. Also, Grainger and Jeremy Irvine had a really nice chemistry in their scenes and were very well-matched. Even though Pip and Estella don't get quite as many scenes together in this as they do in the 2011 version I definitely preferred their interactions. I'll go for quality over quantity any day. Jeremy Irvine was really well-cast in this film as well. Although Douglas Booth makes for better eye candy, Irvine is still a good-looking guy and gives a far better performance. He made for a far more believable blacksmith than Booth and he did a great job at showing how Pip degenerates. Irvine did make me more feel sympathy for Pip than I did when I read the book though and I loved that the film included Pip's "Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence..." speech to Estella. Helena Barlow and Toby Irvine (Jeremy Irvine's younger brother) were both really good as Young Estella and Pip too.

However even though I feel that the 2012 film has a much better all-round cast, the 2011 version does feature some better performances. Olly Alexander is quite cute as Herbert Pocket but I like Harry Lloyd's performance more. Robbie Coltrane gives a good performance as Mr Jaggers but I prefer David Suchet's more sinister and ruthless take on the role. And as much as I love Helena Bonham Carter, her portrayal of Miss Havisham just can't live up to Gillian Anderson's spectacular performance as that character. It's not that Helena Bonham Carter is bad in this film, far from it. She does a superb job of showing Miss Havisham's madness. If I hadn't seen Gillian Anderson's portrayal I'm sure I'd have been more satisfied with Bonham Carter's performance. But Anderson simply captures the layers and complexities of Miss Havisham's character far better. As wonderfully an actress as Helena Bonham Carter is, Gillian Anderson's portrayal is much more deeply-felt and is truer to the character in Dickens' book.

I know I've compared the 2011 miniseries and the 2012 film very closely in their respective reviews but, since they were both produced by the BBC and had very close release dates, I felt that it was almost necessary. Although I wasn't overwhelmingly in love with this Great Expectations film I really enjoyed it. It's a very fine period drama and I'd definitely recommend it. In addition to everything I've already said this film looks great and has very high production values. It has excellent locations, lighting and costumes. And again, I really do feel that this film is the better adaptation of Dickens' book even though it's shorter. As a literary adaptation I don't rate it as highly as the recent Les Miserables, Great Gatsby and Jane Eyre adaptations but it's much better than the recent adaptation of Anna Karenina.

Rating: 4/5
Film Certificate Rating: 12


Ruby Danderfluff said...

Wow, it's always surprising when a 2-hour-long film manages to beat a miniseries. We had seen the miniseries about when it came out, saw the trailer for the movie, and then promptly forgot about the existence of both. Really curious now about the movie, though, I couldn't help but think there was a lot left to be desired from the miniseries.

Reverence for the source material is always an encouraging thing to see in movie or miniseries adaptations. If the filmmakers really put their heart into it, the difference is definitely seen by the viewers.

Yay Wemmick!

It's been a good while since reading the book, but personally, I think Biddy is really important character to be included in the story. My family was really disappointed when they left her out in the miniseries... She serves as both a contrast to estella's cold and cruel character, and a constant, awkward, nagging sensation whenever Pip goes back that he COULD just leave the disfunctional relationship with Estella behind, and do so much better with Biddy. But Estella's hold on Pip is rock solid. When Pip misses his chance with Biddy, (even though the poor gal held out for a good long while), he's left alone, and we're left with the impression of just how much we can miss out on while chasing unrealistic fantasies.

The softening of Estella's character is interesting... I really want to see how this works.

Great posts! Loved reading all three of them. =)

Indigo Montoya said...

I know. Usually a miniseries adaptation has to be pretty sub-par for a movie adaptation to beat it and with GE I think that's the case. Don't get me wrong, the miniseries isn't bad by any means. It's just, well, you said it perfectly. It leaves a lot to be desired. It WAS a big mistake to leave Biddy out of the 2011 version. I was really glad that they included in this film- for all of the reasons you say and also because the Cave sisters were both really good.

I don't think everyone will approve of the softening of Estella's character but for me it worked really well. I hope you'll like this film.

Thanks! Since I'm not a massive GE fan I wasn't sure if the reviews would make for interesting reading but the feedback I've had so far is pretty encouraging.