Great Expectations ★★

Don’t expect great things from this latest big screen adaptation of Great Expectations. Dickens’ classic novel has been adapted numerous times over the years with varying degrees of success but it is a story that has endured, no matter how many liberties are taken with the source material. This most recent and glossy interpretation from Mike Newell feels surplus to requirements, neither adding a new spin on an oft-told tale nor being definitively faithful. Instead it is a lifeless imagining that hits the familiar story beats but does so with bland efficiency.

Newell’s adaptation of Harry Potter was polished, visually handsome, well acted and rather soulless. Unfortunately, even when working with great literature he has replicated this formula yet this time it doesn’t have the spectacle of magic to distract you from the shortcomings. Newell is a workmanlike director who delivers what is on the page but does so with little verve or personality. This CliffsNotes addition, clumsily abridged by writer David Nicholls, is a film that simply goes through the motions. Comparisons with Lean’s classic 1946 film and the recent BBC mini-series are unavoidable and sadly this most recent incarnation comes up very short.

Bizarrely it is a film that feels both rushed and ponderous. At a mere two-hours it certainly isn’t a long film yet its pacing is oddly sluggish despite the fact it burns through the plot quickly; failing to really dig deep beneath the surface of any of the characters in the process. Although both Jeremy Irvine (going some way to redeem himself after his awful War Horse performance) and Holliday Grainger acquit themselves well enough their relationship feels inconsequential resulting in a key dynamic of the story falling flat. Even during the film’s major scenes it fails to soar, either unfavourably recalling earlier, better, adaptations or just failing to deliver the emotional connection that the audience craves.

At least it’s handsomely photographed capturing the eerie Kent marshes and Miss Havisham’s crumbling mansion yet it has no real visual style of its own whilst the London sets look rather cheap and artificial. Even the performances, despite the accomplished cast, struggle to leave any significant impression. Ralph Fiennes is a predictably solid Magwitch but other performances border on pantomime whilst Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham never really convinces - frankly at the time it sounded like lazy casting and the performance backed up this assumption.

Sadly this leaden adaptation has about as much heart as Estella and as much class as Joe Gargery.