Helena Bonham Carter meets ‘Great Expectations’
A three-star review of “Great Expectations,” which features a grand and pathetic Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Great Expectations,’ with Jeremy Irvine, Olly Alexander, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Flemyng, Robbie Coltrane, Holliday Grainger. Directed by Mike Newell, from a screenplay by David Nicholls, based on the novel by Charles Dickens. 128 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images. Several theaters.
Why watch Mike Newell’s version of Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” rather than any number of previously filmed versions? (These range from the 1946 David Lean classic to the most recent BBC version, starring Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone and Gillian Anderson.) Three words: Helena Bonham Carter. As Miss Havisham, the famously jilted spinster who’s barely moved since her ill-fated wedding day, many years ago. Oh my.
The story, as most of us know from our English classes, is about an orphan (played as a child by Toby Irvine, and later by his real-life older brother Jeremy Irvine) and his rise from humble beginnings; it spans a mid-19th-century decade and travels from country to city. Though Toby Irvine has a sweet vulnerability that lights up the early scenes, this “Great Expectations” doesn’t really pick up until HBC appears, swathed in tattered veiling and a delicately grayish sheen of dust — and, though thoughtful and competent, never quite recovers when she’s absent.
It’s one of those bits of inspired casting that’s almost enough to justify the entire movie. Bonham Carter, who mixes an ethereal, Victorian-looking beauty with an uncanny knack for playing wickedly whacko, brings to Miss Havisham a sort of careless wistfulness; a pathetic grandeur, in a trailing wedding gown that seems to root her to the floor. She murmurs her lines, punctuated by sudden, seemingly random intakes of breath (this character does enjoy an audience), seeming fragile yet unshakable among her clutter of stopped clocks and blown-out candles. You wish she had her own movie; you suspect Miss H wishes it, too.
Elsewhere, this “Great Expectations” meets expectations: It’s handsome, well-cast (particularly Ralph Fiennes’ haunted Magwich and Jason Flemyng’s kind, worried Joe) and swiftly paced. But Jeremy Irvine’s Pip’s charisma doesn’t quite carry the story, particularly when you’ve got Bonham Carter heaving her bosom and rolling her eyes to the rafters, and his chemistry with grown-up Estella (Holliday Grainger) lacks a certain something. It’s good, not great — but, for some of us, expectations will be met, and then some.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org