Great Expectations

Directed By: Mike Newell

Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Helena Bonham Carter, Holliday Grainger, Ralph Fiennes, and Robbie Coltrane

We all know there's been a growing trend in which movie stars are headlining cable TV shows.  While it's been a great way for us to get a weekly dose of actors with immense talents, it's also been a way for lesser known talents to make a splash into the industry and gain recognition.  For every Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) or Laura Linney (The Big C), there's a standout supporting cast member such as Eddie Marsan or Gabriel Basso who makes a name for himself on that show.  For Jeremy Irons and his recently concluded series The Borgias, that standout was Holliday Grainger, who portrayed the clever, manipulative Lucrezia Borgia.  Since joining the show, her career has picked up considerable steam.  Having appeared in Jane Eyre and Anna Karenina in supporting roles over the last couple of years as well, she's now portraying the leading lady in Mike Newell's big screen adaptation of Great Expectations.

Pip (Jeremy Irvine) lost his parents at a young age and has been raised ever since by his sister (Sally Hawkins) and brother-in-law Joe Gargery (Jason Flemyng).  While visiting his parents' gravesite one day, he encounters Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes), an escaped convict on the run.  Desperate for something to eat, Magwitch convinces Pip to go get him some food and a blade to remove his shackles.  Pip goes home, steals some of his sister's food, and brings it back to Magwitch.  The next day, Magwitch is recaptured by authorities along with another convict and sent back to prison.  Sometime later, a wealthy woman named Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter) asks Joe's Uncle Pumblechook (David Walliams) to bring Pip to her home to play with her adopted daughter Estella (Grainger), the girl who is to become the love of Pip's life.

After several visits with Miss Havisham and Estella, Pip realizes that he doesn't want to be a blacksmith like his brother-in-law Joe.  He wants to be a gentleman so that he can one day be with Estella.  Though he's soon dismissed by Miss Havisham, Pip's love for Estella continues to grow unabated for years.  As a young adult, he gets his wish when lawyer Mr. Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane) informs him that a mysterious benefactor has granted him a large sum of money to become a gentleman.  Believing it to be Miss Havisham, Pip visits the old spinster and learns that Estella has grown into a cold, heartless young woman who simply cannot love another.  After moving to London, Pip learns that his belief about Havisham is quite incorrect.  His anonymous benefactor is someone altogether different, someone he helped a long time ago as a child.

It should come as no shock that Great Expectations is a powerful, engaging drama.  After all, it is based on the classic Charles Dickens novel of the same name.  That being said, Great Expectations has excellent production value that really enhances the age-old story being retold here.  The film's dark, gritty cinematography helps to set the tone of the movie and create an ominous ambiance.  The elaborate costumes and make-up help to showcase each character's eccentricities visually.  Finally, the thunderous score roars at key moments to help build thrills and suspense.  All in all, Mike Newell really does some solid work here with Great Expectations.

The casting in the film is ideal to say the least.  Fresh from Steven Spielberg's War Horse, Jeremy Irvine brings the right amount of innocence and the right amount of optimism to the role of Pip.  The Borgias star Holliday Grainger is perfect as Irvine's heartless yet alluring romantic interest Estella.  Newell also reunites several Harry Potter cast members who each bring their best to the film.  As the escaped convict Magwitch, Ralph Fiennes gives an honorable performance.  As the old spinster Miss Havisham, Helena Bonham Carter is her usual crazy self.  As Pip's hard-nosed lawyer, Robbie Coltrane gives a slippery performance.

Great Expectations is a deft re-imagining of Charles Dickens's classic novel, and I must commend the work Mike Newell and his cast have done here.  This enjoyable period piece gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.