“A polar bear fell on me.”

Great Expectations

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What do you write about another version of Dickens’ greatest tome that hasn’t been written before?

If I was AA Gill and this was a restaurant review in the Sunday Times I would start with something very tenuous in order to fill the space leading up to my review. Something like: ‘Oh I really am a fan of the hyacinth macaw….it’s  a very pretty bird, full of glorious multicoloured feathers and oh there are birds in Great Expectations too – a proliferation of plumage in Mike Newell’s 2012 adaptation…”

Alas, you’ve probably guessed that I’m not AA Gill, not even a distant relation. I will say that there is much plumage in Mike Newell’s take on the rise of Pip and what his fortune does to his love for forbidden Estella. I figure I’ll stick to my strong suit – being the type of writer that likes to make a handy checklist.

I am presuming that you know a bit about the story. You studied it at school, or you’ve seen one of the ten, count ‘em, ten film and TV versions made since 1934. So here are the questions that you want answered on this latest adaptation.

Q: Who is playing Pip and Estella and are they fit?

A: Two very lovely newbies. You’ll recognise Jeremy Irvine from Warhorse and as well as having a lovely dimple in his chin, it’s important to state that he can act. Pip has to go from raggedy country boy to city gent while always remaining a lovable moral centre and Irvine is wonderful in the role. Holliday Grainger, as well as having a lovely name has an equally beautiful demeanor and manages to make Estella not entirely hateful – no mean feat.

Q: Who’s playing Magwitch and Miss Havisham and what do they bring to it?

A: Well you couldn’t have anyone better than Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter in these two pivotal roles. They both do such justice to their screen-time, it makes you wonder why they have never played them before. HBC will get an Oscar nod for this undoubtedly as she plays Havisham as part of the shadowy domain that she inhabits. Fiennes is a little bit East End gangster for my liking but he is very menacing.

Q: Who should I really be watching?

A: I am a big fan of Olly Alexander in a brilliant role as Herbert Pocket – his is the plumage that is most dashing and he is never annoying in a supporting part often there only to facilitate Pip’s dream fulfillment. He is funny and slapstick but with genuine presence  Robbie Coltrane does a lot with Jaggers – upper crust revulsion and selfish motivation permeating the performance. But my favourite is Jason Flemyng as Joe Gargery. What a wonderful beguiling performance. He is so, so good. It’s very hard to play very simple, but Flemyng is immaculate.

Q: Is it any different to past adaptations?

A: Coming hot on the heels of the BBC TV adaptation last year, this film has been said to be ill-timed. I disagree – this story is better suited to the big screen as it can be readily told in a two-hour period. You get the grittiness of Pip’s childhood, the grandeur of his new life spending his fortune in the big smoke and the moral ramifications of an ASBO kid winning the lottery a hundred and sixty years ago.

Q: Is it any good?

A: Yes, very. Don’t let the big league critics fool you into thinking it isn’t up to scratch. That’s because they can remember the David Lean version, and pretty much nothing beats that auteur’s body of work. But more than fifty years is a long time to wait for a decent version of this story (I’m automatically discounting the pretty dire and *shivers* modern version of the story starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke from 1998).

I highly recommend this film. It may not be an original story but it’s one of the best, told by one of the best modern directors. It’s nice to have one’s cinematic great expectations actually met.