Great Expectations

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Here we go again: the umpteenth adaptation of Dickens’ beloved classic doesn’t play any postmodern games with the tale of Pip (Irvine), the ambitious orphan who climbs the class ladder in pursuit of the hard-hearted Estella (Grainger).


It's not the greatness of of expectations that any new take on Dickens’ most romantic novel has to worry about; it’s the subversion of any expectations at all. It had already been filmed several times when David Lean did so definitively in 1946, and so many have since had a go on screens big and small that it’s hard to see just what territory yet another version can stake as its own.

That’s the chief trouble with this well-appointed redo, directed by Mike Newell (back on more comfortably prestigious ground after the ill-advised Prince Of Persia) and written by One Day scribe David Nicholls: there’s nothing it does well that hasn’t at least been equalled, and in similar fashion, by a previous attempt. Its brooding, murky atmospherics still stand in the long shadows of Lean’s film, while Alfonso Cuarón’s 1998 modern-dress version betters it for youthful sexual frisson. And you’d think the reliably dotty Helena Bonham Carter would be the Miss Havisham to end all Miss Havishams, but Gillian Anderson brought more tragic mystique to the role on telly last year.

Enough of that, however. For those who haven’t yet encountered this story on screen (or, indeed, on the page), this tidily paced, attractively cast film is a perfectly good primer. The ever-improving Jeremy Irvine makes an appealing Pip, Ralph Fiennes is a suitably grizzled Magwitch and Nicholls, who knows a thing or two about slow-burning love stories, has done a fair York Notes filleting job on the text — if it lacks the emotional punch of other adaptations, at least it doesn’t compromise the shamelessly soapy momentum of Dickens’ yarn-spinning. Newell, meanwhile, lends a wind-tossed, storm-hued style to proceedings, suggesting he’s seen Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights — even if he daren’t match the liberties that film took with an equivalent classic.

It’s handsome, involving and stars the cream of British acting talent — but so did Lean’s unbeatable version, and Newell and Nicholls’ safe, schoolteacher-friendly interpretation makes no real case for going down this much-travelled road once more.