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Far from a terrible film but rather disappointing too, seeing as this did have a lot going for it. Plus the trailer actually looked really good. There are certainly some good things, even when a film or series doesn't quite work there are not many times where there is nothing redeeming about it. This Great Expectations does have a fair few merits and the best of these merits actually come off quite well. The costumes and sets are both beautiful and evocative, and the reuniting of Pip and Estella has some very clever lighting, there is great atmosphere and poetry in this moment. The music is haunting, is fitting for the tone of the film and doesn't overbear things too much. The opening scene is very atmospherically effective also, though the adaptation that did this scene best and quite possibly without equal is David Lean's.
And while the acting is inconsistent, there are some very good performances, and actually most of the performances fall into the very good category. The star was Ralph Fiennes, his Magwitch was both creepy and tragic, in the earlier scenes Fiennes is chilling but later on he is very likable and you feel pity for the character. Helena Bonham Carter really gives her all to Miss Havisham, wonderfully bitter and dramatic, if physically a little too on the voluptuous side for a character that is described the complete opposite in the book. Jason Flemying is an excellent and dignified Joe, Robbie Coltrane is firm and somewhat larger than life as Jaggers and Olly Alexander's Herbert Pocket is eccentric and quaint as well as earnest and upbeat, a very engaging performance of a potentially dull character.
Jeremy Irvine looks the part for Pip but his acting style came across as too overwrought and too innocent, while Holly Grainger looks radiant but not cold enough for Estella. They are marginally better than the miscast leads in the respectable but flawed 2011 BBC adaptation, but only just. David Walliams mugs his way through the role of Uncle Pumblechook and painfully so, it may work for Little Britain but it is completely wrong here. Toby Irvine and Helena Barlow are very competent and work well together, if lacking that extra spark to make them truly memorable, Barlow also could have a little more spiteful.
Aside from these problematic casting choices there are other reasons why this adaptation of Great Expectations fell short. It is a very difficult story to adapt, Dickens generally is difficult to adapt, but the story is not very engaging here, though there are some bright spots like the opening scene. The pacing can get tedious while some of the details are rushed through and under-explained, the Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham scenes veer towards the absurd rather than the tense and the scenes between Irvine and Holliday don't have that much pulse. The ending is also very badly bungled.
The script can get rather trite and wordy with some awkward tonal shifts. And while the period detail is great and there are moments where the lighting is clever, the way the film looks is rather too grim, too much of the Harry Potter and Tim-Burton-at-his-most-Gothic vibe. Mike Newell does deserve some credit for bringing out the story's dark approach but too often it is too emphasised so the film generally lacks life, and consequently the dark obsession that is at the heart of this great story comes across as rather flat. Overall, a long way from bad but not as great as it could have been, personally this was a mixed feelings sort of reaction towards the film. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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