Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” is another oft-adapted piece of literature that has seen a variety of film versions from the classic setting of Sir David Lean’s outstanding 1946 adaptation to the contemporary relocation of the tale in Alfonso Cuaron’s 1998 take. This most recent attempt to bring the sprawling tome to life comes to us from director Mike Newell (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) and screenwriter David Nicholls (“One Day”), who once more opt to bring the story back to its classic roots. As the film opens, we find the young orphan boy Pip (Toby Irvine) being raised by his sister and her husband, Joe (Jason Flemyng), a blacksmith. While visiting the graves of relatives, Pip encounters an escaped convict (Ralph Fiennes) who demands a file and some food, items that Pip provides to him the next morning. Shortly after, the convict is caught and returned to prison, seemingly putting an end to the affair.
Not long after this incident, Pip is requested to call upon Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), a rich woman who desires to watch him play with Estella (Helena Barlow), who Ms. Havisham has brought up as her own daughter. Pip quickly finds himself attracted to Estella despite her stern personality, causing him to gladly welcome each chance he gets to visit her at Miss Havisham’s estate. The playdates are eventually brought to an end, with Pip returning home for good to concentrate on becoming a blacksmith. Several years later, Pip (Jeremy Irvine) receives a visit from a lawyer by the name of Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane), who informs him that a mysterious benefactor will be paying for him to go to London where he will train to become a gentleman. So begins Pip’s adventure into a world he had only previously dreamed of being a part of.
Newell’s version of this tale doesn’t really do anything surprising with the material, basically delivering a very standard adaptation. It’s well acted, with particularly good performances from Irvine and Carter, and looks beautiful, but as to why the filmmakers felt the need to delve into a source novel that’s already been done so many times before and then churn out an adaptation that’s just like so many that we’ve seen before is rather strange. That’s not to say that it’s a particularly bad version. Much of it is done in a decent enough manner, that is until the second half rolls around. It is here where the film becomes a bit of a mess as it tries to explain the entire backstory in a rush of flashbacks. At this point, the film loses much of its momentum and is never able to recover, opting for a slow and drawn-out finale.
Dickens’ story is certainly a classic, but it’s been put to screen better than this before, particularly in Lean’s version. Of course, it’s not very fair to compare every version to such mastery, but even as a standalone version, the issues of the second half end up dragging it down to the point of there being a good chance of confusing those who are new to the story. There may be one or two things to like about it, but overall, there’s just not much of a reason to bother given that there are better adaptations available.
“Great Expectations” is presented in a 2.35:1 transfer of varying quality. During light scenes, the picture is decent enough to where you don’t really notice anything wrong, but for those taking place in dark locations or at night, the fuzziness of the picture is on full display. Given all of the hard work that went into the gorgeous period details, you would think that they would make sure the film was given the best treatment possible, but unfortunately the picture is lacking in focus and sharpness for much of its runtime. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a bit of an improvement. While it is a little soft, a minor adjustment allows you to hear everything in a clear manner, leaving little room for complaint.
Great Expectations Premiere: A brief three-minute featurette of footage from the premiere, featuring tiny snippets of interviews from the cast and crew, as well as reactions to the film from the audience. There’s not really anything to learn about the film here, so it’s not particularly worth watching.
While Mike Newell’s adaptation of “Great Expectations” isn’t a terrible one by any means, there just isn’t enough here to make it worth the time of sitting through a story that’s already been done many times over. On top of that, the lack of special features and the shoddy picture quality only make the release less recommendable. It may feature some good performances and a beautiful production design, but in the end, you’d be better off just revisiting Lean’s classic adaptation instead.
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Star Trek: Enterprise - Season Four, The Legend of Hercules, Dead Shadows, Sorcerer, Copperhead, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Best of Bogart Collection, Beneath, American Hustle, Kill Your Darlings, The Slumber Party Massacre, Inside Llewyn Davis, In Fear, Oldboy (2013), Cold Comes the Night, Gravity
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.