The latest film of ‘Great Expectations’ is, you know, just fine

Helena Bonham Carter plays the dreaded Miss Havisham in "Great Expectations." Credit: Johann Persson
Helena Bonham Carter plays the dreaded Miss Havisham in “Great Expectations.”
Credit: Johann Persson

‘Great Expectations’
Director: Mike Newell
Stars: Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Unlike Shakespeare, Charles Dickens doesn’t get many flashy modern updates. His work is era- and location-specific: grimy England of the mid-19th century, where the chasm between the classes was epic and a sore on the eye. “Great Expectations” was dragged into the present for a phantasmagorically pretty (but brain-drained) version in 1998, directed by “Gravity”’s Alfonso Cuaron and starring Ethan Hawke at his most ‘90s mopey. But it belongs in the distant past, where the times and (especially) the language can truly flourish.

Of course, ask for a straight-up adaptation, and you get this new “Great Expectations,” which is perfectly acceptable, highly respectable and slightly dull (if never boring). The plot — in which young Pip (eventually played by strapping Jeremy Irvine) goes from grimy working class to idle gentleman in London, with the help of a secret benefactor — has been brutally condensed but hits all the necessary plot points and moves swiftly. The fine cast is headed by Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, the scary on-the-lam con with a secret. He’s excellent, as would happen if one cast Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch.

Of course, these aren’t actual problems for a picture to have. One of its few real issues would be Helena Bonham Carter. She’s long been more machine than woman, which may seem ideal for the twisted, mummy-like Miss Havisham, a character that traditionally coaxes the ham out of whoever plays her. But Carter is all spastic, OTT technique, no humanity, particularly when she’s supposed to finally reveal some. (Flashbacks to the day she was jilted at the altar are similarly misjudged.)

What is does get right, which Dickens adaptations often don’t, is its violently shifting tones. Dickens is hilarious and Dickens is brutal. Newell gets this, even moreso than the rightly celebrated 1940s adaptations by David Lean (including “Great Expectations”). This version isn’t exactly a laugh riot, but it does not sheathe the beautifully named Mr. Pumblechook (played by “Little Britain”’s David Walliams) from its running time. It’s occasionally bouncy, but then not afraid to roll around in the muck.

It still lacks a definitive reason for being — that said, outside of being an adaptation of a great by a great. The world can always stand to reminded, even for the ten thousandth time, of towering art, even from those that include a boring lead who seems to go through a trendy haircut every reel, one a mildly Victorian twist on Justin Bieber’s current ‘do. If it does anything more than remind you of another art work’s greatness is another story.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Bloomberg: Going green will grant you longer life…

Former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg tells Metro that cities are where fighting global warming can make a difference, and increase people’s lifespan.

International

Ban Ki Moon: "Climate change is an issue…

My message to you is: make your voice heard and your actions count. Change is in the air. Solutions exist. The race is on. It’s time to lead.

Local

Earth Day New York food toolkits to help…

Hundreds of classrooms across New York City already have indoor container gardens that allow students to grow food right where they learn. But Earth Day…

Local

NYPD announces street closures for United Nations General…

The United Nations representatives are in town, and multiple city streets will be closed to traffic through Saturday, Sept. 26. The NYPD is urging those…

Television

10 Facts you won’t learn about Frankie Grande…

Frankie Grande is the worst and/or the best. Whether or not you're a fan, you'll want to know these facts about the polarizing player from "Big Brother 16."

Movies

Antoine Fuqua can kill someone with just a…

It's amazing what you can get done with the right tools. In designing the climactic battle in "the Equalizer," in which Denzel Washington's retired special…

Movies

Guess Ben Kingsley's worst filmmaking experience

Here's a fun game: Sir Ben Kingsley has made a lot of films since "Gandhi" in 1982, but at least one of them was a…

Books

Does Lena Dunham have any secrets left?

Get a sneak peek at her new book to determine if it’s worth the read.

College

College football top 25 poll: Oregon, Alabama close…

College football top 25 poll: Oregon, Alabama close in on FSU

NFL

Jay Cutler takes Marc Trestman's coaching to heart

While Jay Cutler turned to an autobiography on the man who would be his head coach, Trestman had personal experience with the player.

NFL

Jets vs. Bears: 3 things to watch

Jets fans likely chalked up Monday's matchup with the Bears as a loss when the NFL schedule came out. But given their team's play so…

NFL

Rashad Jennings carries Giants in first win this…

Rashad Jennings, who came to New York from Oakland last year, by way of Jacksonville, was highly coveted this offseason by general manager Jerry Reese.

Style

Sarah Doukas on social media, models and diversity

The maker of Kate Moss tells Metro how social media can drive the diversity change in the fashion industry.

Education

Here are this year's most creative college application…

The college application essay is one of the only times during the admissions process where a student can showcase his or her personality. While many…

Style

Nicola Formichetti on Diesel, the digital revolution and…

The artistic director of fashion label Diesel – and stylist for Lady Gaga – is creating human connection through social media.

Education

Your older siblings probably had a big impact…

As many high school students agonize over where to go to college, it turns out they turn to a very familiar source for advice and…