As a war rages on in the province of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, a young girl becomes transfixed by the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations, which is being read at school by the only white man in the village.
Mr Watts is the only white man left on the island after the blockade. He opens the school and introduces the children the 'Great Expectations.' Matilda, the teenage narrator finds comfort in the story of a Victorian orphan when her own world is falling apart. The Redskins, an army sent to destroy the local rebels are getting closer. Matilda writes 'Pip' in the sand. This simple act leads to terrible consequences when the Redskins suspect Pip to be a rebel leader and demand he be brought before them. Written by
a bittersweet coming-of-age story about the loss of innocence
A co-production between Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea, Mr Pip is a bittersweet coming-of-age story about the loss of innocence, and also about the power of the imagination and literature to inspire and change a person's life. This is a theme that has driven a number of other films like The Neverending Story, the darker The Reader, and even Freedom Writers. The film is set on Bougainville Island, in the eastern part of Papua New Guinea, in the late 1980s, which was a turbulent and troubled time for the residents. At that time Bougainville was the world's largest producer of copper. But a dispute between the mining companies and PNG rebels resulted in the mines being closed down. Most of the able bodied men and all of the white inhabitants have wisely left the island for the relative safety and stability of Australia. But one man has stayed behind. Tom Watts (played by Hugh Laurie, best known for playing the cynical doctor on popular TV series House) is a former actor who is married to a local woman (Florence Korokoro) and remains in the village. He decides to reopen the local school building which has been closed down. He begins to read Charles Dickens' classic novel Great Expectations to the village children, hoping that the words of one of England's greatest writers will distract them from the horrors surrounding them. His actions touch a chord with an intelligent and curious young girl named Matilda (played by newcomer Xzannajah Matsi). Her father has left for Australia, leaving Matilda in the care of her emotionally fragile, deeply troubled and deeply religious mother. Matilda often indulges in flights of fancy where she imagines herself living in the story itself and carrying on her own romance with Pip (Eka Darville). But the civil war itself is never far away and the presence of soldiers looking for rebels and their supporters brings danger and death to the village. Laurie plays against type here, but he brings a world weary quality and a sense of regret and loss to his performance. His Watts is not a hero in the conventional sense, but in some ways his actions are heroic. The rest of the cast largely comprises of nonprofessionals who deliver realistic and credible performances as the villagers. Also impressive is newcomer Xzannjah, who brings a wonderful sense of innocence and resilience to her performance. The film is based on the novel written by Lloyd Jones, and the material obviously resonated with New Zealand born director Andrew Adamson, who also spent some time in Papua New Guinea while growing up. Mr Pip gives us a glimpse into the culture, spiritual beliefs and politics of this exotic and unfamiliar location, but he doesn't shy away from depicting some of the violence and harrowing reality of life for the villagers. Mr Pip is a labour of love for Adamson, who is better known for his work on more family oriented fare like the first two animated Shrek series and the special effects driven Chronicles Of Narnia. But he handles the material here effectively, and doesn't flinch away from showing some of the darker aspects of life in this deceptively idyllic island location which is being torn apart by civil war. Mr Pip has been beautifully photographed by Australian cinematographer John Toon, who captures the lush forest setting. The film is let down slightly by some pacing problems, some obvious plot holes, and an unsatisfactory ending.
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