There’s something about Charles Dickens’ novels that inspire filmmakers and something about the characters and the nature of the stories that makes them so enticing to adapt to the screen. In the last decade alone the BBC have had great success adapting Little Dorrit, Bleak House and last year’s Great Expectations, while Oliver Twist has been churned out on numerous occasions, also inspiring one of the most successful and well loved movie musicals of all time.
Dickens’ characters are so dark, romantic and soulful and yet so desperately full of sorrow and misery, filmmakers keep flitting back to him because there is a great story to be told. There is always a sad, downtrodden and lonesome leading protagonist whose adventures take them to be in company with the most lecherous, horrific and awful people imaginable. There is always a reference to the gloomy, dirty and frightening streets of London, a long awaited twist, a death and normally a great hill to climb before a happy ending.
Mike Newell whose most recent work consists of magical fantasy adventures, from kiddie friendly wizardry in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to 2010’s disappointing summer blockbuster Prince of Persia: The sands of Time, is the latest director to have a stab at one of Dickens’ most beautiful and frightening tales.
Great Expectations is the deeply compelling and emotional story of human tragedy, revenge, passion, greed and heartache. The story begins with a poor but kind-hearted orphan boy called Pip (War Horse alumni Jeremy Irvine as adult). Upon his terrifying encounter with escaped convict Magwitch (a brilliant performance by Ralph Fiennes) on the moors, Pip is then led into the path of the mysterious Miss Havisham (played with perfect eccentricity by Helena Bonham Carter), a woman locked in a continual state of mourning after being jilted by the groom on her wedding day. It is there that Pip also meets Estella, Miss Havisham’s long suffering adopted daughter. Although at first taken aback by her cold and mean nature, Pip comes to fall in love with Estella, a passion that consumes his every thought.
When a secret benefactor supports Pip’s transition to become a gentleman in London, his life takes a very unexpected turn, to become a man of property and someone of great expectations.
The cast is quite simply perfect, with strong supporting forms from Robbie Coltrane and Jason Flemyng. The two young lovers play their roles with depth, heart and soul, while Bonham Carter it seems was born to play this role. Her complex and tragic little figure, swamped by a rotting wedding dress makes for compelling viewing.
There is nothing especially original about this adaptation. It wasn’t needed, nor was anyone crying out for another version after last Christmas’ successful TV three-part drama starring Gillian Anderson. None the less it is so much more than another mediocre costume drama.
A wonderful adaptation that deserves to be enjoyed, purely for the super performances but a story that will live on and linger with you long after you’ve left the cinema.
Great Expectations will be out on 30th November across screens in the UK.