If you, unlike my husband, can get beyond the story, then you will still be disappointed with this 2012 British adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel. Directed by Mike Newell, the movie stars Jeremy Irvine (“War Horse”) and Holliday Grainger, but the only real reason to see the movie is for the performances of Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch. The movie is currently at the Laemmle Playhouse 7.
The classic novel by the same name is about a poor orphan boy, Pip, who helps an escaped convict and is later brought to a grand mansion to be the playmate of a young girl, Estella. Estella has been adopted by a reclusive spinster, Miss Havisham.
Havisham was jilted by her lover who had been plotting with her brother. All dressed up and ready to be wed, Havisham closed up her home, never changed out of her wedding dress and allowed the wedding feast to be eaten by rats and other pests. Estella is being raised out of revenge, taught to be cold and cruel toward men.
Although Havisham dismisses Pip after a time, when a lawyer, Mr. Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane) whisks Pip away from the drudgery of his blacksmith apprenticeship under his brother-in-law, Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng), Pip believes his benefactor is Havisham. Mr. Jaggers takes Pip to England so he can become a gentleman, but he instead becomes both a snob and a spendthrift.
Although he believes he’ll be able to win Estella, Estella marries someone else and when Pip finds out the identify of his true benefactor, his great expectations are soon dashed and his arrogance crushed.
Irvine did fine in the lead for “War Horse,” but the chemistry between Irvine and leading lady Grainger is a flame so low it wouldn’t warm your hands during a cold spring day in London. Grainger is lovely, but neither she nor director Newell make Estella sympathetic enough to justify Pip’s affection nor our empathy. Irvine’s Pip isn’t complex enough to suggest some psychological tick or emotional neediness to rationalize is love or desire for Estella. Irvine and Grainger are attractive young people, but there are plenty of young attractive people so this alone doesn’t justify Pip’s obsession.
Carter is younger and more attractive than most previous Miss Havisham’s have been, but she is, according to the director, at the right age. Carter ably suggests a fragility and innocence despite her unconventional educational plans for Estella instead of the cold, hard hatred. As Magwitch, Fiennes is at first frightening and then sympathetic. Whenever these two come on screen they hold our attention, making both Grainger and Irvine seem rather dull though pretty faces.
I do like the portrayal of Pip’s rivals for Estella’s affections, Bentley Drummle (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) as vicious fop leader of a gang of well-born cruel and shallow fops. Oily Alexander is entertaining as Pip’s friend, Herbert Pocket, who kindly teaches Pip manners.
Dickens changed the ending but in doing so didn’t resolve some of the emotional and psychological issues and Newell and his writer David Nicholls don’t succeed in making a convincing argument for a happy ending. Nicholls’ script explains all the loose endings, gut sometimes too soon and in a manner that seems clumsy.
“Great Expectations” does have beautiful production values although the cinematography could have been better, but this is a movie that you might as well wait until it comes to television. “Great Expectations” premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2012. The movie is currently playing at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 until 21 November 2013.