The book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens reminds me of a time in my life when I was just experiencing literature’s possibilities. I was a loner in high school that spent many a days reading Dickens and Austen and Shakespeare instead of having a nice normal social life that my parents would have wished me to have. Instead I was swimming in this great pool of amazing characters and finding my “normal” peers boring and not at all like the characters from my books. I am sure you are wanting to know why I am speaking about my personal life instead of talking about this damn film adaptation. I sometimes talk about my personal life, because I bring baggage to films that I watch. I can not always be totally objective when it comes to watching a film and then writing about it. I have a connection with the source material that has informed my watching this film and I think it was for the better.
David Lean is famous for making epics. However where I think he succeeds the most is when he makes “smaller” films that involve only a few characters. I love Brief Encounter and I really like this film adaptation. I feel that Lean was sort of in my head when making this film and sort of filmed my visions of the characters. Maybe that is a testament to Dickens writing style, but I feel like so many adaptations of his novels and plays get misconstrued and become something that was not intended (a prime example of that debacle is A Christmas Carol and all the horrid adaptations of that novel/play). Lean is true to his source material. There are no fancy tricks or machinations. He keeps it black and white with stark shadows that recalls German expressionism. Although it might have a happy ending, this story is not a pretty story to tell and it shows the evil side of humanity in too stark a light sometimes. Therefore the story is enhanced by the stark shadows and the minimal acting of some characters and overacting of others.
One of my favorite scenes in the book and then in the film is when Pip first meets Miss Havisham and Estella. The fear that Pip experiences is translated into the decaying cake on the table , the stopped clocks and the massive cobwebs that overwhelm everything. Miss Havisham is one of those great characters who use broad strokes and malice to express her thoughts. Therefore the actress who plays Miss Havisham overacts to the point of comedy, but it only serves to make the character more grotesque. It is a really interesting feet to see on celluloid.
The later the film gets, the more problems I have with it. For instance the person who acts as the older Pip seems to get by his resemblance to the child actor more than his acting chops. He plays Pip with a weird sincerest that is sometimes grating on the nerves. I also have a problem with the older Estelle. The young Estelle was played so well that I was disappointed by the vapid and empty expression of the older Estelle. I didn’t believe that Estelle would ever be attracted to Pip as he is now that he is older. I guess I just really liked the beginning of the story and the child actors. The later half may have suffered from wrapping up too many loose ends in too little of a time frame and not giving the actors as much to do as they should have had.
Despite these reservations, I thought it was a good film and pleasant way to pass an afternoon. I was not looking for strict social satire and I did not get it. Instead I got a good time exploring characters that I loved in my youth (ahh the sweet folly of youth.)