Great Expectations (1989– )
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I first saw this movie in my freshman English class in high school and, from what I remembered, it followed the novel pretty well. The actors were memorable and delivered solid performances, especially Jean Simmons as Miss Havisham and Anthony Hopkins as Magwich. The period setting and costumes were lavishly done and the story and plot flowed at a steady, but gripping pace, keeping the audience engaged. From what I remembered, my class enjoyed the movie.
Like many late 1960s to the 1980s movie/TV adaptations of famous novels, this TV mini-series of Great Expectations ranks high up there with 1968's Romeo and Juliet, 1982's Oliver Twist and 1988's April Morning. It's a good take on the novel and, if I were to select one film adaptation of the story to recommend, I would go with this one.
The other versions seen include the very good 1999 adaptation with Charlotte Rampling as Miss Havisham; the respectable but rushed 2011 mini-series(the two leads were also miscast despite being more age-appropriate than Lean's leads); the decent but hugely flawed animated version from Australia(interesting for Estella at her most sympathetic); the recent 2012 film that was a mixed bag; and the dull and uninspired 1974 TV film with Michael York. Most looking forward to the BBC version with Joan Hickson.
1989's Great Expectations is wonderfully done in so many ways. It looks splendid for starters, thought was clearly put into the visual details, regardless of how big or small. The period detail itself is sumptuous to look at and when needed there is that feeling of desolation like in the early scenes. Atmosphere-wise too, Great Expectations(1989) is one of the most evocative adaptations of any piece of literature viewed recently, it perfectly matches the tone of the book while also having the feeling of the Victorian era come to life. The photography is fine too, not as cinematic or as inventive as in the Lean film(then again this is a different medium we're talking about) but it is hardly a hack job. The music is well-used, sometimes used sparingly to allow the scene and storytelling to speak for itself, and creates an ideal mood, not too over-bearing and not too low-key.
As for the writing, no complaints there either. It is adapted beautifully, intelligently and faithfully, and evokes a great deal of thought. There is the sense of Dickens' prose coming to life from the pages, nothing is anachronistic, nothing is stilted and nothing is too wordy. For an adaptation of a classic it strikes all the right notes. Don't let the length deter you, for a story this dense, this rich and this detailed, and with a lot of themes and conflicts going on, a long length is necessary.
More importantly, the storytelling is sustained over the running with no problem, in no way does it feel incomplete, thin or run-out-of-steam quality. And for anybody who prefers really faithful adaptations, this is for you. Of the adaptations seen this is easily the most faithful and complete to the book(certainly the most faithful adaptation of anything I've seen since my viewing a few months back of the Russian And Then There Were None), the darkness, richness, conflicts and themes are all there and developed beautifully. And it's the adaptation with the best ending too, Lean's wasn't so much of a problem personally but the others bungle it(the 1974 version was the absolute worst in this regard. The opening scene is not as atmosphere or suspenseful as Lean's, but still well staged and acted.
Of the performances, the standouts are Anthony Hopkins' Magwitch and especially Jean Simmons' Miss Havisham, two of the biggest stars as the most interesting characters in the book. Hopkins is outstanding, one of his best performances for me, in the early scenes he is appropriately menacing but later on he is sympathetic and he carries the role with an admirable amount of dignity. Simmons practically disappears into the role of Miss Havisham to the point of almost-unrecognisably, and dominates the screen every time she appears. Kudos to the costuming and make-up for making her look as ruined and broken as possible, quite possibly the most physically convincing of all the Miss Havishams, while allowing Simmons to give the character grace, an almost regal command and a sense of torment. You find yourself feeling a tad scared of her as well.
Anthony Calf is one of the better adult Pips, handsome and youthful(not pretty-boy quality though like in the 2011 adaptation), yet gentleman-like, but never bland, similar attributes to Ioan Gruffodd in the 1999 version but a little more commanding. Kim Thomson is fine also as Estella, a little too old perhaps but still beautiful and expressive yet with a coldness and haughtiness. The best done Estella in personal opinion is in the 1999 adaptation, the only adaptation to get Estella completely nailed, but Thomson is one of the better ones. John Rhys-Davies is a humble and dignified Joe with some steel too, while Ray McAlly plays Jaggers with firmness and intelligence.
Overall, brilliant, succeeding as an adaptation and on its own. 10/10 Bethany Cox