There are few things more Christmassy than Dickens, which makes the winter release of Mike Newell’s 'Great Expectations' particularly apt. And, much like a festive mince pie, this adaptation of one of Dickens’ most celebrated (and well-worn) novels is rich, solid and comforting – though perhaps a little stodgy, too.
'War Horse' star Jeremy Irvine takes up the central role of Pip, an orphan boy ‘brought up by hand’ by a cantankerous aunt and his dutiful, affectionate brother-in-law Joe (Jason Flemyng).
Pip seems destined to follow in Joe’s footsteps in taking up the humble profession of blacksmith, until a chance encounter with escaped convict Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes) alters the course of his life, and he becomes embroiled in the affairs of the disturbed Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter) and her alluring young protégé, Estella (Holliday Grainger).
This classic coming of age, rags-to-riches tale is one a great many people will already be familiar with, especially considering the BBC’s serialised television adaptation (starring Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone and Gillian Anderson) aired just last year. As such, there are no real surprises in the plot – and Newell hasn’t made a discernible effort to bring anything new to the table in terms of style or narrative structure.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however – it’s a faithful retelling, ably acted by all concerned - Helena Bonham Carter’s Miss Havisham is a particular highlight, and David Walliams’ camp turn as Uncle Pumblechook raises a smile. The period setting is vividly brought to life with a satisfying air of Victorian grit and grime, atmospheric visuals and sumptuous costumes.
Though it doesn’t exactly excite, wow, move, or indeed quite fulfil the great expectations some might have entertained based on the impressive cast list, Newell’s interpretation is nevertheless an enjoyable, if slightly bland, watch. It’s just a pity that 'Great Expectations' is missing that special something which would elevate it from ‘passable’ to ‘delicious’.
'Great Expectations' is out now in UK cinemas, through Lionsgate UK. The film premiered at the BFI London Film Festival 2012.