Great Expectations (2012)

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Director: Mike Newell. BBC/Lipsync/Number 9/Unison/iDeal Partners Film Fund. (12A)

HISTORICAL/PERIOD/EPIC

 


Producers:
David Faigenblum, Elizabeth Karlsen, Emanuel Michael.
Writer: David Nicholls.
Camera: John Mathieson.
Music: Richard Hartley.
Sets: Jim Clay.

Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, Jeremy Irvine, Holliday Grainger, Sally Hawkins, Sophie Rundle, Ewan Bremner, David Walliams, Jessie Cave, Tamzin Outhwaite, Olly Alexander, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Toby Irvine, Helena Barlow.

SYNOPSIS

A perverse destiny is spread before the innocent young blacksmith’s apprentice Pip (Irvine and Irvine) when he is one day called upon to go and play at the mouldering house of Miss Havisham (Bonham-Carter), a middle-aged and dotty woman, and her haughty adopted daughter Estella (Barlow and Grainger). Through a series of meetings, he becomes dissatisfied with his lot in life. He is therefore delighted to receive news as a teenager that he has come into a handsome annuity. Believing Havisham to be his benefactor, he travels to London, forgetting his nearest and dearest Joe (Flemyng), his true and faithful father figure, to pursue the life of a gentleman. It is a decision that has devastating ramifications for all around him.

REVIEW

There have been umpteen adaptations of Dickens’ perennial psychological classic stretching right back to the silent era. Writers and directors of the past have cleverly dug beneath the surface of Dickens’ warped epic to tease out the subtleties and nuances to bring an individual stamp to bear on their own productions (the recent BBC TV adaptation for instance used actress Gillian Anderson to spine-tingling effect as a child-like, whispering Miss Havisham, sexual thrall to Douglas Booth as an impossibly beautiful Pip).

As time goes by, it should come as no surprise that such literary liberties will inevitably thin, if one wishes to remain faithful to the original text.

This is writer Nicholls and director Newell’s problem – how to reinterpret Dickens’ text to make it live again when so many good ideas have already been pilfered by other artists, and still keep this as a recognisably Dickensian product (2012 being, as many of us know, the bicentennial of the author’s birth). The solution they come to – don’t reinterpret it too much, but push that bit further with the performances from a terrific cast. And, in that regard alone, this is a successful approach.

Fiennes is a terrifying Magwitch. The opening scenes capture the full shock and violence of that first chapter when he grabs Pip, menaces him and turns him upside down. Only Fiennes could then portray him later as a pentetant man, humbled by Pip the gentlemen, his very own creation and self declared son. He delicately and rather weirdly strokes Pip’s handsome face, half in  possession and half in love it seems.

Bonham-Carter seems slightly subdued in what should be the strongest part. She plays Havisham as if she is a little lost. Possibly this was the whole point of the characterisation, but the mind games she plays with Pip and Estella seem weaker as a result. What is obviously child abuse in the novel seems more like an old girl being a bit daft and having a wild eye moment in her wheelchair. None the less, she has some fun being horrible, with her pantaloons on full display for the children playing cards in front of her.

Coltrane is a strong and quite manly Jaggers, contrasting with the wonderfully supercilious and aggravating Walliams as Uncle Pumblechook who declares “Why are the young never grateful?” as a table of older diners gorge themselves ahead of the hungry, scrawny young Pip. Here is a man who would gladly sell any relative, no matter their age or infirmity, for an extra rung up the social ladder.

Newell indulges in some nice visual touches – the gloominess of the early scenes is of course almost a cliche in Dickens adaptations, all running shadows and silhouettes. There is a ready intimacy in the medium shots of the actors faces (made more obvious in the hyper sexualised turns from Grainger, who practically loses her character’s ice cool demeanour as she pants after Irvine’s sulky, testosterone fuelled Pip). The Judge at Magwitch’s trial sits almost three stories higher than the defendant, a symbolic image if ever there was.

All in all, an entertaining adaptation, it suffers only from not being especially distinguished.

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The King’s Speech (2010). Superb period details, but read on for why we felt this isn’t royal enough.

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Film review of the Oscar winning drama starring Colin Firth as King George VI and how a speech therapist helped him overcome a stammer.

Drama

 

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

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Director: David Yates

 

ACTION/ADVENTURE/FANTASY

Producer: David Barron, David Heyman, J.K. Rowling. Writer: Steve Kloves. Camera: Eduardo Serra. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Sets: Stuart Craig.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham-Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Helen McRory, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Julie Walters, Mark Williams, David Thewlis, John Hurt, Imelda Staunton

SYNOPSIS

Young wizard Harry Potter (Radcliffe) is now a young man and almost graduated from Hogwarts Academy. Along with his friends Hermione (Watson) and Ron (Grint) he has to race against time to destroy a set of evil pendants and uncovers the most powerful objects in his magical world: the Deathly Hallows.

REVIEW

The seventh of eight films based on author (now co-producer) Rowling’s seven novels about boy wizard Potter (the final book is being split into two movies for ease of adaptation…and to earn a few extra pennies for Warner Brothers before the series takes its curtain call, no doubt) shows a clear progression in terms of stylistic technique and maturity of handling what is essentially ‘young’ subject matter in the best film of the series so far.

It’s certainly a welcome trotter for Potter outside the now redundant confines of Hogwarts, a whimsical school whose cute fixtures and fittings (the animated pictures, endless moving staircases, creepy corridors and ghosts flying around) had long since outstayed their welcome.

We move almost immediately into high gear with some strong scenes of violence for a 12(a) rated movie, opening with a teacher being tortured in graphic fashion (something we return to later on). But this is a pretty grimly plotted outing altogether, death seeps not only into the title but also into every frame (the palate used by the cinematographer is unremittingly grey, drained of colour), even our heroic trio look consumptive.

Perhaps illness also explains their incessantly dull, wooden acting (particularly Watson), but this is a fault inherent in the entire series. It must have been daunting for three actors new to motion pictures to be surrounded by the cream of British Equity slumming it/queening it/lording it over them in often pointless and disposable character roles (Shaw, Griffiths, Walters – you’ve been spotted). 

There are, however, performances to savour and they are always the baddies – Staunton isquiet megalomania behind twin-set and pearls and Bonham-Carter sexily sociopathic.

This film suffers from maladies that have also afflicted the other films – there are far too many characters milling around for a sound-bite and far too many new people introduced into this heady mix. There is too much ‘business’ in the writing leaving the narrative jagged (we hurry along from one scene to another and are then jolted into sedantry description) and cluttered. Kloves really needed a red pencil and blue scissors to hack a few situations out completely, particularly as some scenes are superfluous.

One thing Kloves does get spot on, is the humour. The film is frequently very funny and his cast jump at the chance to raise a few laughs, none more so than when, after his friends have cloned themselves as Harry to confuse his enemies, they re-group but wearing each other’s clothes and Harry ends up wearing a bra.

One moment to note, in fact to savour as it is probably one of the most dazzling images captured in modern film – Hermione tells a story about death and three Princes and her narration is accompanied by a beautifully animated story that recalls the Shadow Plays of yore. An incredible moment that knocks the noisy whizz-bang of the other special effects into a cocked hat.