The audience’s over familiarity with the subject matter was always going to be a big stumbling block with this latest film interpretation of Dicken’s penultimate novel, considered by many, including himself, to be one of his most artful and mature. Though this problem can be overcome, as shown by Andrea Arnold’s very fine indeed version of ‘Wuthering Heights’ last year, and to a lesser extent ‘Jane Eyre’ also from 2011, the issue is compounded by the fact a televised version of ‘Great Expectations’ with Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham was aired for the festive season only one year ago, and one of the most famous and deservedly well liked British films of all time is David Lean’s version of the story, which despite being released in 1946, still gets shown on the big and small screen on a semi-regular basis. Comparing that version to this, there is a famous with scene with a young Jean Simmons that universally gets a laugh in response, the same scene here never even registered a titter with the audience.
Although you can’t really go too far wrong with Dickens, there is nothing in this film that makes it stand out at all and money would be better spent simply renting the Lean version. Here, the quality of the acting varies drastically, with it being the third mild mannered role in a row for lead Jeremy Irvine (after Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’ 11 and ‘Now is Good’ 12 – a fantastic film incidentally) which may not bode well for his future career, although he does seem the right age for the role, unlike John Mills in Lean’s film. Holliday Grainger looks resplendently radiant when she is revealed as the grown up Estella, but Miss Havisham is played by Helena Bonham Carter, who is perfectly capable of doing the role justice but instead decided to go with ‘I get to dress up like a Goth and act all crazy again, yay!’, it’s like watching Miss Havisham as played by Johnny Depp and, frankly, how many more times do we have to watch the same charade of meritless self indulgence. Robbie Coltrane, Ewen Bremner, and Ralph Fiennes all give wonderful turns to provide a balance to some of the others, resulting in an unmemorable and limp, but not wholly unenjoyable, final rendition.