REVIEW: Great Expectations (2013)

GREAT-EXPECTATIONS-PosterWith a big classic comes, ahem, great … expectations. Enter an all-British, all-encapsulating take on Charles Dickens’ iconic work Great Expectations.

The story unfolds much as it always has: Pip is a humble orphan who’s destined to be a blacksmith despite his love for Estella, a beautiful girl locked away in the mansion of the broken Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter). When he grows into a lad (Jeremy Irvine), his dreams of becoming a gentleman and wooing Estella (Holliday Granger) become more likely when he moves to London on the bankroll of a mysterious benefactor. But as Pip begins to lose himself to the lavish city lifestyle and his own conceit, his past comes back to haunt him in a way that could permanently affect his future.

Penned by the esteemed best-selling author David Nicholls (One Day, Starter For Ten), it’s clear from the screenplay that this film is crafted by people who truly love the source material. It makes all the difference. Nicholls knows how to move the story along as quickly as it needs, while at the same time seamlessly inserting classic lines from the book in a way that doesn’t feel forced or wooden. “Moths, and all sorts of ugly creatures hover about a lighted candle. Can the candle help it?” As is usually the case with period films of this magnitude, the sets and costumes are extravagant and flawless.

Jeremy Irvine proves he can do more than look like he’s about five seconds away from mouth-kissing a horse, which is a relief. He’s by far not the strongest in the cast, even though he is the lead, but it doesn’t matter when the film is rolling 20 homies deep. And by ‘homies’ I mean incredible, incredible thespians. It’s impossible to mention them all but the stand outs are Helena Bonham Carter playing Tim Burton’s corpse bride, an unrecognisable Ralph Fiennes, a succulent Holliday Granger, a tres huggable Jason Flemyng, an irritable David Walliams and so on and so on. After her performance in Jane Eyre and this, Sally Hawkins seems to be the go-to actress for period bitch.

Director Mike Newell – the man responsible for one of the best Harry Potter films in the Goblet Of Fire – seems to have finally found his footing with Great Expectations. After stumbling over the post-Harry Potter opportunities with the woeful Prince Of Persia and the disappointing Love In The Time Of Cholera, he seems to be back to his Mona Lisa Smile and Donnie Brasco best. Jane Eyre set the bar for modern period films and he seems to have found a middle ground between its intensity and Anna Karenina’s overabundance of spectacle. He balances a massive case and a lengthy time span with seeming ease. It only takes the first 15 minutes for the audience to forget that they know this story and to become completely wrapped up in the Gothic fairytale.

With a cast that includes all of Britain, Great Expectations manages to be a faithful and epic rendition of the Charles Dickens classic.

Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz