This film is set during the 1990s when the island of Bougainville was locked in a civil war against Papua New Guinea over their copper rights. It's a struggle that we seldom, if ever, heard of here in the States. Because of the war, schools have been closed for some time and there are occasionally periods of extreme violence. However, the lone white man on the island, Mr. Watts (Hugh Laurie), has decided that he'll try to teach the kids—even though he really knows nothing about teaching. Although he's not a trained teacher and is well out of his league in many ways, he is able to instill within the kids a love of literature. When he reads Dickens' Great Expectations, the kids eat it up. Of these, Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi) is perhaps the most voracious. In fact, her love of this story is so great that she longs to one day go to England and see it for herself. Much of the story is about her and her imagining that she is a character within this novel. In fact, I wish MORE of the film had been devoted to this—it was among the best parts of the film.
While this is the main plot of the film, there are LOTS of little detours here and there—as if the story itself is secondary. At times, it seemed like the lost track of the Great Expectations theme—and other times, it seemed really important. What is important are the wonderful performances in the movie. Laurie is excellent as usual—and it's nice to hear him speaking with his native English accent. His American accent was so convincing, I am sure many viewers of his hit show had no idea he is a Brit! However, what really impressed me where the wonderful performances by the natives—non-professional actors who did an excellent job nevertheless. They seemed very natural and real. I would attribute this as well as the nice look of the film to the director, Andrew Adamson. Adamson is famous for the Shrek and the Narnia films— movies that really are about as different from Mr. Pip as you can get!
So who is the audience for this film? Well, although it sure looks like a family film during much of the picture, it clearly is not and I would definitely not let kids see the film. There is some horrific violence late in the film that just make the movie too intense for younger viewers. It also is quite depressing in places. However, for teens and people looking for something different, it is worth seeing just for the performances.
By the way, if you are curious, the story is based on a book by Lloyd Jones and it is available through most booksellers.