20 March 2001 | Filmtribute
Imaginative tale of Magwitch's exploits in Australia
This $6,000,000 collaboration between Tim and Tom Burstall (father and son), and the ABC, extends the classic Charles Dickens story of the young orphan who helps an escaped convict and is later rewarded by a mysterious benefactor. The story imaginatively explores the central character of Abel Magwitch and his Australian adventures. The main characters are well played, with John Stanton (Phar Lap) creating a very believable and humane Magwitch, who manages a very credible transformation from the rough convict who initially terrifies Pip at his parents' graveside, to ultimately become his generous benefactor.
The themes of class and prejudice; justice, punishment, transportation and penal colonies; fortune and coincidence, destiny and fate; morality and kindness rewarded are all covered. The story encompasses Magwitch's transportation to Australia, his imprisonment there and eventual service to a landowner where he is reunited with his old adversary Compeyson from 'the old country'. We are shown how Magwitch came by his own lucky fortune and accumulation of wealth, and his subsequent determination to benefit his young helper on the Kent marshes. The ending is more upbeat than Dickens, who always depicts life with more sorrow than joy, mirroring his own experiences.
It is interesting to see an Australian production based on an English story and, if some of the characterisations seemed a little quirky to me I am probably unfairly comparing them to British productions. We should remember that Dickens wrote about odd people at a time when eccentricities were more marked and tolerated, despite the accompanying social ills, than today where modern life attempts to iron out abnormalities in the name of progress.
It seems a shame to me that the film version, edited by Hemdale Distributors out of the original ABC series, omits the adult Estella's story, as there are too few opportunities to see performances by the wonderful Anne Louise Lambert (Picnic at Hanging Rock). The brief glimpse of Estella dancing with Pip illustrates a classical beauty to rival any other portrayal I have seen.
I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in Great Expectations, to broaden their perspective on the story.