Customer Review

77 of 97 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very little expectations..., April 9, 2012
This review is from: Masterpiece Classic: Great Expectations [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
As an ardent fan of Charles Dickens, I am always open to any film adaptation in this day and age of his work, and have to admit that I was quite excited for this new 2011 production of "Great Expectations". While not my favorite of his novels, it nonetheless has a plethora of possibilties when dramatized for the screen, be it big or small. Nonethless, after viewing, I couldn't help but feel a trifle let down.

I've watched several BBC/Masterpiece productions and found them all to be enjoyable, but this one was a chore to watch, even in installments. It wasn't just the rushed pacing, the artsy, color-drained cinematography that feels more appropriate for a horror movie than Dickens, the brutal watering down of his brilliant prose into bland, almost inanely simplified dialogue, or the dropping of important chunks of the novel in favor of inserting newly-imagined scenarios that add nothing but smuttiness to the story (i.e., the inappropriate and unnecessary brothel scene, or the completely travestuous "lake" moment between Pip and Estella) that made me give this film one star; it was the fact that it just felt too modern to be a really good adaptation of Dickens, and that the very spirit of the book was conspicuously absent throughout the entire three hours.

While it's something very hard to explain, it simply never struck me as feeling "authentic", either in a historial sense or a dramatic one. Everything felt forced, like the filmmakers didn't really believe in what they were creating, and the actors just wanted to get through their lines as quickly and painlessly as they could. Honestly, I might never have known this was supposed to be "Great Expectations" aside from the occasional appearance of Miss Havisham. Sure, the sets look authentic and the costumes are beautiful, but the script feels like a soap-opera styled parody of the book, with acting to match. Douglas Booth, who plays Pip, along with Vanessa Kirby as Estella, never seem to really grasp that they are supposed to be living in the 19th century instead of modern-day, and give stilted, unoriginal performances. I did mildly enjoy Gillian Anderson as the quite mad and ethereal Miss Havisham, though I think Helena Bonham-Carter can do better.

One thing that Charles Dickens' books are well known for is their wittiness and whimsical humour. Even his darkest tales have pepperings of light scattered throughout to lift the mood and create a style uniquely his own. This film has left those credos by the wayside and opted for a far more bleak, shadowy, and humourless rendition, with nothing left but dull and depressing scenes of boring, colorless characters with nothing even remotely interesting to do or say. Character development doesn't happen as often as it should, and in consequence leaves you with little emotional connection to the characters themselves by the end of the film. Pip and Estella's complicated relationship is reduced to a cliched collection of invented scenes, and that between Joe Gargery and Pip, both as a youngster and as an adult, is almost nonexistent.

As I mentioned before, the biggest con for me was the fact that the dialogue has been so oversimplified that you might not know if it was Dickens or not. With other BBC productions, at least of few quotes come verbatim from the pages of the book, helping to bring the world of Victorian England to life, but not so here. The glorious, fanciful language of the time is diminished so heavily that it might just as well been written yesterday instead of in 1860. Without his words, Dickens just isn't Dickens; but apparently Sarah Phelps, the screenwriter, didn't quite comprehend that.

A bit too artsy and modern for my own taste, I was disappointed in the BBC for allowing this to be their Charles Dickens bicentennial production, knowing that they can do and have done much better than this in the past. There is no doubt that this film will appeal to many people, but as for myself, I prefer to wait for Mike Newell's upocoming cinematic adaptation, for which I have much greater expectations.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 21, 2012 6:51:49 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 21, 2012 6:58:09 AM PDT
janebbooks says:
A very fine critical review, Meredith. From another "literary purist." You really will not like my review of this PBS production which I compared to the very modern, updated 1998 film based on Mitch Glazer's screenplay.
Another "literary purist" commented that I may have done better comparing this version with the John Mills (1999) or the Gruffold/Waddell/Rampling (2004) version.
You did make one valid point..... Andrew Davies, British author and screenwriter agreed that the "humour" was missing.

Posted on Jun 16, 2012 8:05:22 AM PDT
I agree, I didn't like this version either. And once I saw who they picked for the adult versions of Pip and Estella I simply couldn't keep watching it...Pip was SO modern-looking and couldn't act at all, and Estella was supposed to be pretty and just was not. Of course my husband and I always chuckle when we see the English idea of beauty in these BBC productions anyway.

Posted on Jul 12, 2013 7:53:47 PM PDT
ND says:
I agree absolutely. I kept thinking, "why did they do that?" Why did they have Miss H set herself on fire? Why did they leave the room with the wedding cake mostly out? It's such a memorable image in the book. Why change the dialog so much?

Posted on Jul 21, 2013 9:48:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jan 17, 2015 10:35:07 AM PST
S. Hosey says:
Thanks for pointing out the unauthentic scenes. Having never, as of yet, read the book, I wouldn't have known. Same was done to Jane Austen's books which saddens me.

Posted on Nov 13, 2013 1:26:55 PM PST
Anyone who could possibly give this one star lacks a soul, eyes and ears. I was simply enchanted and spellbound by the entire production.

Posted on Nov 20, 2013 1:24:47 PM PST
keviny01 says:
Before I watched this, I had expected differences from the novel. Film adaptations usually differ from the source to some degree, even the celebrated 1946 film adaptation of "Great Expectations" by David Lean (who had never read the novel). The key is how clever you go about making the changes. Lean, of course, was very skillful in doing so. SPOILER ALERT........ Instead of having Bentley Drummle die as in the original novel, he had Drummle call off the wedding to Estella because he had found out about her true parentage (from Jaggers, no less). Hence, Estella had the misfortune of being jilted by her fiance just like Miss Havisham once was. That was a very nice and powerful touch, one that Dickens would probably approve.

I have mainly two problems with the BBC edition: it was probably not the best idea to give such unsubtle hints on who Pip's benefactor was practically from the beginning; and it was probably not a good idea to show Estella clearly falling for Pip only midway through the story.

I don't mind the "ugly" Estella. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to convey the lowly origins of her parents. Also, an unworldly blacksmith apprentice like Pip would probably find even a slightly above-average-looking woman to be very beautiful. But then again, one of Dickens' themes is not to trust appearances: a lowly convict may be a good person, a beautiful person may be an ugly person inside.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 6, 2014 2:01:45 PM PDT
CVB says:
I felt exactly the same way.

Posted on Jun 15, 2014 1:54:39 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 16, 2014 7:01:16 PM PDT
mnraft says:
I liked Ray Winstone's portrayal of the convict, Abel Magwitch. Yes, he was given some lines that don't appear in the novel, such as an explicit recognition of Pip's "goodness" that he makes upon his apprehension on the marsh, and of course this makes it much easier to guess that he is Pip's mysterious benefactor. However, for us viewers who have already seen several screen adaptations and perhaps even read the novel, it's a positive tradeoff to flesh out Magwitch's character and make his future generosity more plausible. I think that we 21st century viewers have different standards of plausibility than did the original readers if Dickens' novels. I can't agree with the original reviewer that the "spirit" of Great Expectations was lost in this screen adaptation.

Posted on Jan 17, 2015 10:25:21 AM PST
I completely agree with everything you say here. I'm a big fan of the book, and it definitely doesn't feel authentic to me either. It just doesn't feel right when watching it. I always understand when a film adaptation has to make changes to the story, but the changes here just seem unnecessary, like they made changes just for the sake of making changes and being different. Above all, what I dislike the most is the writing. As you pointed out, they don't even use Dickens' own lines. So many times I was waiting and getting excited for seeing how certain famous lines were going to be delivered, to find out that they're not even used at all and completely oversimplified. Very disappointing.
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