Alfonso Cuaron's 1998 modern adaptation of Dickens Great Expectations was the last time the big screen took a chance on the Dickens classic. Except for a famous poster featuring Gwyneth Paltrow nude and in repose it is not fondly remembered and not often viewed. Every decade usually sees a television mini-series treatment. Still, the only version with any juice to it has been the great 1946 David Lean directed one.
Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Donnie Brasco) has assembled a great cast featuring Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), Helena Bonham-Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Holliday Grainger to take another classic shot at it.
In an interview with Empire Newell explains his approach to the novel:
I guess the way you go about making it fresh is that you have some big version of the story that you think hadn’t quite been told before. There have only been two movies of this (maybe you could count three), but I felt that this was very contemporary, because it was a great big passionate and very sexy love story. Not like the John Mills love story at all, which was very ‘British’ and stiff-upper-lipped, and so on.
This was about obsession, about a guy who was driven crazy by love and who betrayed everyone about him to get where he needs to be for the girl. But it’s also about money, and how money steers you wrong if you’re not careful. So Pip begins to think that he IS a gentleman, just because he has money – and, well, he isn’t. He gets to discover that it’s a delusion, and he gets to discover that he screws himself up and everyone around him through that delusion. I think it’s Dickens; it’s Dickens writing about himself. I think that’s what he’s doing. You know, Dickens had fantastic success, audiences with the Queen, and all the time he’s saying: “You’re a fake, you’re a fake”. And he dumps his wife and 12 children, and runs off with a 20 year-old actress."Jeremy Irvine plays Pip. The War Horse actor is a work horse when it comes to creating his on-screen characters. In an interview with ETonline he had this to say about his role:
"I'd seen a lot of wide-eyed, innocent versions of Pip and I didn't like that. This is someone who has been abused physically and mentally every day of his life and I thought that would make for a tough character because he does survive. So when you first meet him, he's almost a Neanderthal and I wanted to have that transition to a gentleman. Also, this ambition of becoming a gentleman becomes an obsession because he starts to see it as his way out of this life of violence and abuse. But every day that goes by, that obsession becomes more toxic and poisonous to the point where it ends up eating him alive from the inside. It's a lot darker, and it's the only way to justify and understand why he's such a terrible person. I mean, Pip is not a good guy; he's quick to discard the people that love him if they're in the way."
Holliday Grainger who plays Estella, noted in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, that her character is
''the emotional version of Frankenstein's monster''.
Estella is the subject of a kind of experiment by Miss Havisham, the wealthy recluse who adopted her and shaped her from her earliest years,
''and she is very damaged, a victim of emotional abuse - even though I don't think that was Miss Havisham's intention''.
Estella she notes:
''has a lot of anger and resentment inside her, I think, but she is also passive, and probably has very littlevconfidence in herself, which is why she always reverts to the facade.''
In a scene in which she is offered the chance to leave Miss Havisham,
''It's a lot easier for her to stay. If she left she would have to unlearn all the self-restraint she has spent her whole life developing.''
Ralph Fiennes who plays Magwitch has his own deep involvement with Dickens. Fiennes stars and directs The Invisible Woman about the true story of Charles Dickens and the much younger woman, Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones) who became his secret lover until his death. It is based on the biography of the affair by Claire Tomalin.
In an interview with The Observer, Fiennes notes "He was 45 … she was only 18. And this man, this force that came at her, happened to be someone called Charles Dickens. And he came with his alpha-male charisma and imagination, and she had to weather it. And that was the story of her heart." He adds in a quieter tone: "And that made me want to do it."
Helena Bonham-Carter plays Miss Havisham. It is funny how fate has her voicing a Corpse Bride to playing the original.
In an interview with The Observer, Director Mike Newell says that he was keen to show how Miss Havisham's own expectations have damaged her life.
"Her character is made by the moment at which time stopped," says Mike Newell. "She is dumped at twenty to nine in the morning as she is dressing for her marriage, as the story boldly states, and time stops and she is living in a time warp from then on."
"It is then a case of what that warp does to her," the director adds. "It is how the warp warps her and it is all done because of this huge expectation that she had of life - that she was in love and that she would have a future in front of her but that is all chopped back and what happens to her character is what happens to a person who is chopped down in that brutal fashion but does not die of it."
Bonham-Carter notes in an Observer interview,
"It's funny," she adds, "when Mike Newell made the offer, it was quickly followed by him saying, 'Don't worry, if you look at the book she's not actually 78 years old!' She's probably only 37 when Pip meets her."
"She is fascinating, this woman," the actress says. "Take away the age thing and there's still a lot going on with her. She's very, very ill, mentally, for a start."
"Miss Havisham has been inside for 15 years, so she would have had no vitamin D in her body," she notes, "and she'd have a had a failing eyesight. She is always asking Pip to come closer. "
"I like all the illness, because when you play characters who are so damaged you really wonder what made them get to this point, what made them such a weirdo. Often if someone is truly damaged or hurt they have a bit of OCD, because they think that if everything is fine and they control their exterior then they'll never be hurt again."
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