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
What's it like to be white?
You mean what's it like to be white, or what's it like to be white here?
A bit like what the last mammoth must have felt, I suppose. It's lonely, at times. I don't know. What's it like being black?
We only feel black around white people.
Yes, well, I'd say the same is true for me.
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Mr. Pip is an unusual case where I liked the acting and direction much more than the story itself. In fact, in many ways, the story seems like the least important part of the film and it left me, at times, a bit flat.
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.
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