out of Five
Running time: 129
Watchable adaptation enlivened by a handful of strong performances and some committed set design work but the pacing drags considerably and it's rather over-shadowed by last year's superior BBC TV version.
What's it all about?
Directed by Mike Newell, Great Expectations is adapted (by David Nicholls) from the novel by Charles Dickens and stars Toby Irvine as young orphan Pip, who grows up with his blacksmith uncle (Jason Flemyng as Joe Gargery) and screeching aunt (Sally Hawkins as Mrs Joe). As a boy, Pip has two encounters that will change his life: first, he is kind to escaped criminal Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes) when he finds him hiding in the marshes; and second, he is regularly sent to the house of eccentric local recluse Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), where he falls madly in love with Miss Havisham's haughty adopted daughter, Estella (Holliday Grainger).
As a young man (now played by Jeremy Irvine), Pip receives a mysterious windfall from an unknown benefactor that he believes to be Miss Havisham. With his new-found wealth, Pip sets about becoming a gentleman in London, where he hopes to woo Estella now that he's a desirable prospect. However, the reappearance of Magwitch presents Pip with a nasty shock and throws his plans into disarray.
Both Irvines (young Toby is Jeremy's brother) are fine as Pip and Jeremy generates some decent chemistry with Grainger that brings their scenes a much-needed spark. There's also strong support from the likes of Robbie Coltrane (as Mr Jaggers), Jason Flemyng and particularly Tamzin Outhwaite (as Molly), though both Fiennes and Bonham Carter are curiously underwhelming as Magwitch and Miss Havisham, with Bonham Carter, rather disappointingly, choosing to underplay it rather than go for full-on twitchy and bonkers (and why else would you cast Helena Bonham Carter if not for that?)
The film is also bolstered by some impressively committed set design work, though the real strength of this version is the attention it pays to characters who are often sidelined or left out of the story altogether, such as Pip's other girlfriend (Bebe and Jessie Cave as Biddy) or Outhwaite's Molly.
The main problem with the film is the general lack of energy; it has the occasional moment but for the most part it feels like it’s going through the motions, with plodding direction and a running time that's a good twenty minutes or so too long. On top of that, comparisons to last year's superior TV version (with a livelier Pip and a performance by Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham that was both heart-breaking and chilling) are inevitable, not least since both versions are by the BBC.
The performances ensure that Great Expectations is never less than watchable, but the pacing frequently drags and it lacks the emotional impact of the recent BBC TV version.