Even though Charles Dickens' oft-told story is livened up with a terrific cast and sharp script, it's difficult to see anything terribly new about this BBC-produced version. Especially since it comes less than a year after their previous lavish TV production. But there are plenty of elements in this film that make it worth seeing, as the soap-style plot twists and turns through comedy and romance to its action-thriller climax.
After growing up as an orphan with his blacksmith uncle (Flemyng) and high-strung aunt (Hawkins), Pip (Irvine) is given the chance to live as a London gentleman. He's sure that his anonymous benefactor is the barmy Miss Havisham (Bonham Carter), a broken-hearted hermit he worked for as a child. And since he's still in love with her adopted daughter Estella (Grainger), he decides to use his new position in society to court her. But things don't quite go as expected, and his life takes a surprising turn when scary prison escapee Magwitch (Fiennes) latches onto Pip and begins revealing some surprising connections between all of these people.
This faithful retelling of Dickens' novel is packed with coincidences and revelations, as well as the kind of gleefully thorny rivalries that would be expected on Dallas or Downton Abbey. Overloaded with blackly comical intrigue, it's a compulsively enjoyable film that entertains us on a variety of levels as the story develops. Although director Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) never tries anything too flashy. Which means that despite the high quality, the film is straightforward and perhaps unnecessary.
So even if the production design is rather trite and overwrought, we take pleasure in the nutty performances of supporting actors like Flemying, Walliams and Hawkins. Irvine is likeable in the central role and has some moving scenes with Grainger, Bonham Carter and Fiennes. As the younger Pip, Irvine's little brother Toby is clearly another young actor to watch. And even if the story is overfamiliar and this film never does anything particularly new, at least it's a first-rate British production on the big screen where it belongs.
Run time: 111 mins
In Theaters: Friday 30th January 1998
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 36%
Fresh: 12 Rotten: 21
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Mike Newell
Screenwriter: David Nicholls
Starring: Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, Jason Flemyng as Joe Gargery, Robbie Coltrane as Mr. Jaggers, Holliday Grainger as Estella, Jeremy Irvine as Pip, Ewen Bremner as Wemmick, Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Joe, Sophie Rundle as Clara
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