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Don't expect too much from reworking of classic

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 29, 2012

Jeremy Irvine as the love-struck Pip and Holliday Grainger as  Estella in  Mike Newell's latest film version of the great Dickens classic, Great Expectations

Jeremy Irvine as the love-struck Pip and Holliday Grainger as Estella in Mike Newell's latest film version of the great Dickens classic, Great Expectations

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Drama/Romance. Jeremy Irvine, Holliday Grainger, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Flemyng, Ewen Bremner, Robbie Coltrane, Sally Hawkins, Olly Alexander, David Walliams, Jessie Cave, Tamzin Outhwaite. Director: Mike Newell.

Expectations were certainly great when Mike Newell announced this lavish retelling of Dickens to coincide with the bicentenary of the writer's birth.

David Nicholls, author of Starter For Ten and One Day, had penned the script and some of the brightest stars of the British acting firmament were confirmed as the book's memorable protagonists.

Confirming all of the promise, Great Expectations was chosen as the coveted closing night gala of last month's BFI London Film Festival.

Alas, as the characters in Nicholls's screenplay learn to their cost, life is full of disappointments and Newell's film has a fair few.

Arriving less than a year after the BBC's well-crafted three-part adaptation – a centrepiece of the channel's Christmas schedule – Great Expectations is both sluggish and slavish.

Crucially, the film fails to outshine David Lean's seminal 1946 version, even with John Mathieson's magnificent cinematography and Jason Flemyng's endearing portrayal of honest blacksmith Joe Gargery.

As a boy, orphan Pip (Jeremy Irvine) has a disturbing encounter with escaped convict Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes) in the marshes close to the home he shares with his haughty sister (Sally Hawkins) and her husband (Flemyng). The boy agrees to steal food for Magwitch but police eventually apprehend the suspect.

Soon after, the boy is dispatched to visit the reclusive Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), who requires a playmate for her ward, Estella (Holliday Grainger).

At first, Pip is scared of Miss Havisham, clad in her wedding dress.

Once Pip meets Estella, fear is replaced by infatuation and he falls under the spell of the girl, who has been raised "to wreak revenge on all men"...

This version of Great Expectations is a handsome rendering of the novel but there is little in Nicholls's screenplay that we haven't seen before.

Irvine is an appealing leading man and David Walliams offers fleeting comic relief as Uncle Pumblechook, but Bonham Carter's anaemic portrayal of eternal bride Miss Havisham is emblematic of a film covered in the cobwebs of previous adaptations. Neither the best of times, nor the worst of times, Newell's vision is something in between.

Animation/Action/Comedy. Featuring the voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher, Jude Law, Dakota Goyo. Director: Peter Ramsey.

Many of the benevolent icons of childhood innocence are the universally adored faces of capitalism and greed.

Father Christmas rewards well-behaved children with expensive gifts, the Tooth Fairy marks the loss of an incisor with money under the pillow and the Easter Bunny reduces an important Christian festival to a carnival of cocoa-smothered excess.

So it seems fitting that the computer-animated fantasy Rise Of The Guardians should imagine a world in which children suddenly stop believing in these idols simply because there are no brightly coloured parcels under the Christmas tree or chocolate eggs hidden in their garden.

Based on The Guardians Of Childhood book series by William Joyce, Peter Ramsey's entertaining family-oriented film is a timely reminder that there are many things without rigorous scientific proof that still touch our hearts and change our humdrum lives for the better.

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