With December finally upon us, it would appear that filmmakers are continuing to exhaust the Dickens/Austen franchises at a time of year when apparently ‘tis the season to be jolly’. Hmm. This time round, it’s a ‘retelling’ of Great Expectations, although many will be quick to recall the BBC miniseries which aired -yup, you’ve guessed it- just last Christmas. Awkward.
We all know the story. Pip, played by a baby-faced Jeremy Irvine, is given the chance to become a gentleman and woo the beautifully sour-faced Estella when he comes into a large fortune provided by a mysterious benefactor. Cue scheming, plot twists and heartbreak.
As a fan of the book and its countless screen adaptions, I was both eager and anxious for Newell and the star-studded cast (which basically reads as a Harry Potter reunion) to breathe new life into the story- even if its resuscitation was unnecessary.
Perhaps my expectations were too high. Don’t get me wrong, the film certainly has its merits. The romance between Pip and Estella, which is usually underplayed, is allowed to flourish and develop. Helena Bonham Carter provides a refreshingly subdued performance as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch proves, once again, that he is more than capable of intimidating an orphan in a graveyard and making Robbie Coltrane freak the fuck out at the sound of his name. Ten points for Slytherin.
However, the choice to opt for gloss over grit is ultimately the film’s greatest downfall. What can be argued as collectively tame performances from the actors, not to mention the clean-cut visuals, merely highlights the film’s diluted interpretation of the text. Viewers will no doubt leave the film feeling warm and fuzzy, at least until bracing the weather outside. In fact, it’s a wonder that Tiny Tim didn’t feel the need to make an appearance. Oh well, maybe next Christmas.