Eccentric Lesson in Etiquette

Great Expectations

great_expectations

Director: Mike Newell

Cast: Jeremy Irvine, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Holliday Grainger, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Flemyng, Ralph Fiennes, Sally Hawkins

Charles Dickens published Great Expectations in 1860 just ten years before his death in 1870 at the height of his literary fame. Naturally over the past half century there has been several film versions of this classic realist novel, but Four Weddings and a Funeral director Mike Newell has captured the essence of Dickens in the new film version of Great Expectations starring Oscar nominated British actors Helen Bonham Carter (Les Miserables, Wings of a Dove) and Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, The Duchess) as Miss Havisham and Abel Magwitch respectively.

Newell’s triumph in this version of Great Expectations is capturing the essential British aspect of the story about Pip, a poor orphan who is rescued from the fate of becoming a rural blacksmith and elevated into London’s fashionable high society by a mysterious benefactor whose fate he is inextricably entwined with right from the beginning.

The other great triumph of this version of Great Expectations is the superb casting of energetic young and gorgeous actor Jeremy Irvine as the twenty-something Pip who has to negotiate rite of passage in London’s high society inevitably through his men’s club the Finches with the help of his tutor the practical solicitor Mr Jaggers beautifully played by Robbie Coltrane.

Pip through the eccentric Miss Havisham, eternally bedecked in a spidery wedding gown, wonderfully played by Helena Bonham Carter is first introduced to her ward Estella, who soon grows up into a magnificent young woman, wonderfully played by Holliday Grainger and over the course of the two hour film, Pip and Estella’s lives interlink through past connections and present repercussions.

great_expectations 1998

Besides Alphonso Cuaron’s 1998 version of Great Expectations modernized and set in Florida and New York starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow, the previous version of this novel was filmed by the great director David Lean back in 1946. With the current trend for traditionalist entertainment especially in light of the success of British TV series Downton Abbey, director Mike Newell’s significant decision to leave Great Expectations in its rightful Victorian setting is an important and ultimately shrewd choice. From the gorgeous sets to the fantastic male costumes of the young Victorian dandies, enough to inspire a flamboyant range of Vivienne Westwood menswear collection, this version of Great Expectations will make all period purists rejoice at its elegance and simplicity.

great_expectations 1946

Naturally in line with similar Dickens novels Great Expectations is populated with an eccentric and unique range of delightful Victorian characters one of the reasons which have made his novels so evocative and enduring. Pip is surrounded by his simple country Uncle Joe Gargery played by Jason Flemyng and Mrs Joe played by Sally Hawkins and in London is guided by Mr Jaggers’s generous assistant Wemmick played by Ewen Bremner of Trainspotting fame. The alpha male in the young gentleman’s club, the Finches of Avery Square and Pip’s nemesis is the ruthless Bentley Drummle played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes.

Great Expectations like any rags to riches story, similar to Vanity Fair and My Fair Lady places its narrative arc firmly in the tough lessons of Life and Etiquette and is essentially a wonderful coming of age story of a young person who is mysteriously placed in opulent circumstances only to discover the sinister motives behind such an unexpected social elevation. The costumes are superb, the acting brilliant, helped especially by Fiennes and Bonham Carter and made more palatable by the enthusiasm of screen newcomer Jeremy Irvine who embodies everything the hapless handsome hero should be: innocent, impressionable and ultimately fated to discover his true origins.

The only criticism of Great Expectations is that the first part of the film is severely dark and also the editing and cinematography could be better, whilst the narrative and rich characterization makes this version of the English literary classic worth watching on the big screen, hopefully reintroducing 21st century film audiences to the wonder of Dickens as its never seen before.

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