12 June 2014 | TheLittleSongbird
Not so great, but watchable at least
This may be one of the weaker versions of the Dickens classic but by all means not the worst, that's the 1974 version which felt like a musical- oddly enough that version was intended to be that- but without the songs. It is a good looking film, though the opening graveyard scene was too studio-bound for personal tastes, there is at least a sense of time and place convincingly and handsomely rendered and the photography and lighting are good(the one exception is the hideously garish make-up for Florence Reed). Admittedly the music is on the syrupy side, but in a beautifully lush way rather than an overly treacly one. The adaptation at least tries to respect the book, with the literate way the script is written and with the faithful structure, and it gets the point of the book out well enough.
It's not devoid of decent performances too, the cast is an uneven one but not without bright spots. Coming off best is Henry Hull as Magwitch(for me the second most interesting character of the book after Miss Havisham), who plays with real gusto and menace without being too hammy or sinister, though you do feel for him by the end as well. Francis L. Sullivan is firm and occasionally jovial as Jaggers should be, though he is more memorable in the definitive David Lean film. Florence Reed is a haunting Miss Havisham, though much more could have been done with Miss Havisham's cruelty towards Pip(which is more a writing problem than with Reed).
Phillip Holmes however is very stiff as Pip and Jane Wyatt while with an alluring appearance is rather plain and too sympathetic as Estella, with next to none of the icy haughtiness coming out. But the biggest problem with the film is that, while not exactly dull(the pacing is reasonably good actually) unlike the 1974 film, atmospherically it is somewhat bland. There could have been more suspense, more drollness and more mystery, and there is a sense that the film didn't know what to do with some of the characters. Magwitch is fine and the only main character that is somewhat completely unscathed, but with the retrospective and more remorseful approach that the book had not so apparent in this adaptation I didn't find myself quite identifying with Pip in the same way. And Miss Havisham is written nowhere near as eccentric or cruel enough, disappointing seeing as it is those that makes the character so memorable, though Reed still brings those qualities across. The graveyard scene is a disappointment, there is too much of a studio-bound quality, atmospherically and visually, and there is no real intensity or atmosphere, something that was done to unsurpassed effect in Lean's film. The ending is also bungled, few of the adaptations of Great Expectations have had convincing endings but the ending here felt far too sentimentalised. Overall, not so great and one of the weaker adaptations of a classic but difficult book but it is at least watchable. 5/10 Bethany Cox