Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Great Expectations

Great Expectations
Based on the book by Charles Dickens
Release Date: December 27th, 2011
Starring: Ray Winstone, Paul Rhys, Gillian Anderson, Vanessa Kirby, Douglas Booth, David Suchet, Jack Roth, Shaun Dooley, Mark Addy, Claire Rushbrook, Harry Lloyd, Perdita Weeks, Susan Lynch
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Even if you haven't read Great Expectations, I'm sure you know about Miss Havisham. The slightly dotty jilted bride still in her wedding gown years and years later. She's part of the collective subconscious, there is not a time I didn't know who she was. Also, a bit embarrassing to say, but I haven't read Great Expectations. I've read all about Miss Havisham's exploits with Thursday Next does that count? No... I didn't really think it did. So my first big foray into the world of Pip and Miss Havisham was actually during a very devote, slightly stalkeresque phase in my life when I had to watch everything Ioan Gruffudd was in. Yes, this even led to me watching quite a few crappy movies, 102 Dalmatians... Shooters... Very Annie Mary... I could go on, but I won't. Just watch some Forsyte Saga and Hornblower and you'll get your Ioan fix. Anyway, in the days before I had a DVD player, I was able to get an old VHS copy of Great Expectations with Ioan from the library. It felt very flat to me. All the characters, especially Pip, where very unlikable. I found Russell Baker's intros far more interesting, where he discussed the populist uprising of fellow authors which changed the ending, even if the original was more true to the story. So when the BBC announced the new production with Gillian Anderson I was excited. Firstly I was hoping for something that would capture me more and make me interested in the story. Also I was keen to see which ending they chose, even though rumors where that an entirely new ending had been written.

This production kind of let me down on almost every account. Mainly, the ending was the actual ending! Well, the actual Dickens re-written ending that is commonly held as the "true" ending. What the... oh well, at least it's Dickens and not some weird tangental ending that can't be possible with what came before, I'm looking at you Andrew Davies, you and your Wives and Daughters! Pip has humble beginnings and gets ideas above his station when he starts to visit Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella. Eventually he gets a great bequest of money and he thinks it's Miss Havisham's master plan to bring him and Estella together, only to find out he was totally wrong. Not surprising that this is a short three-parter when looking at the simplicity of plot compared to say Little Dorrit or Bleak House.

Pip is played by an Ambercrombie and Fitch Robert Pattison wannabe whose acting is so bland the only way his ascension from blacksmith to gentleman is able to be measured is by how tall his hat gets. His accent is never modulated from rich to poor and instead relies on brooding looks and high cheekbones. When you have other characters making fun of a non-existent accent it brings the production down, show not say people. Coupled with Estella, they make the blandest of couples who you couldn't really care if they get their happily ever after or not. I was kind of rooting for the bleaker ending from early on, just so that maybe these two could show something other than their remarkable ability to act like statues. As you can see, the main problem was that the two youth leads are dull as ditch water and when surround by a superb cast made up of some of the best British actors today, they don't just look dull, they kind of become a black hole of suckiness.

The wealth of well acted supporting roles is the only thing that makes this dull version worth watching. The cast is peopled with everyone from David Suchet to Ray Winstone, all nailing it. Claire Rushbrook, whom is most known for a guest appearance on Doctor Who and being in Spice World, just brings it as Pip's evil older sister. I never knew she had that much bile in her, seeing as I've seen her in two rather benign and nice roles. Mark Addy as the uncle, Mr Pumblechook, was hilarious, and proves that he should only be allowed to play slightly drunk men who yearn for greatness, ie, his recent turn as Robert Baratheon on Games of Thrones. Notable is one of Addy's Thrones co-stars, Harry Lloyd, as Pocket, who happens to be Dickens' own great-great-great-grandson. He not only embodies an actual Dickensian presence, but he was born to play this role being both funny, lovable and romantic. I just hope he gets more and more great roles in the future. Also, a menacing award has to go out to Jack Roth, who turns out to be the son of Tim Roth, proving the creepy baddie is an inheritable trait.

Let me finally get to the one actor this whole shebang revolves around. Gillian Anderson. Many thought that she was too young and too pretty to play the role, but after watching it, I don't think you're likely to go, "oh, she did look lovely as she burned to death." Gillian Anderson is very odd as Miss Havesham, with a little girl voice and an almost china doll appearance. As other reviewers have said, she gives the appearance that she has never grown up. She is bat-shit-crazy incarnate. If there was an award for best wacko, she'd win. Also, her little touches, like the worrying of the hand with the wound was spot on. Yet, in the end, she was too small a presence. She was like a nervous mouse skittering around. Her and everyone else could just not rise above being hampered with two dull leads. Such a shame...

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