Limited expectations more than met

This is my review of Great Expectations [DVD] [2012].

It is hard to "give away the plot" of such a well-known Dickens classic but for those who do not know it I shall limit myself to the following: as a small boy, the orphan Pip is terrified by an escaped convict into smuggling him food and a file; the eccentric Miss Havisham summons Pip to her gloomy mansion as a playmate for her beautiful but cold adopted daughter Estella, whom she has brought up to break men's hearts; made dissatisfied with his humble lot through his contact with Estella, Pip is delighted to learn that he has "great expectations", a fortune from an anonymous benefactor and so can escape to a new life in London.

The film is true to the original novel in its main points, and is visually striking, in particular the scenes of the desolate Kentish marshes by the Thames where Pip's uncle runs a smithy, and the vivid contrast of London in all its grimy vibrancy. There is excellent acting from Ralph Fiennes, who conveys a sense of the convict's violence, but also his worthy aspirations and dignity. Jason Flemyng is effective as the simple but honest, decent and stoical blacksmith Jo Gargery, and Robbie Coltrane is suitably brisk and cynical as the lawyer Jaggers, who keeps dark secrets close to his chest. Jeremy Irvine makes a sensitive and sympathetic handsome hero, showing Pip's development in the difficult process of becoming a gentleman and coping with the source of his wealth. I was left unsure how convinced I was by either Miss Havisham or Estella: the problem is that the former is deranged and the latter is meant to have a heart of ice. Some of the minor characters failed to engage me. Pip's rival Bentley Drummle resembled an Elvis-lookalike bad lot out of the wrong age.

Stripped of Dickensian language, the plot is inevitably very contrived, and riddled with unlikely coincidences. The direction seemed a little rushed and unclear in places. Yet, overall, the film tells a good yarn, and is genuinely moving at times in exploring issues of class, revenge and the complexity of human nature.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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