MOVIES - Why the Dickens did they bother?

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (12A)

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Jeremy Irvine as Pip and Holliday Grainger as Estella in Great Expectations
Jeremy Irvine as Pip and Holliday Grainger as Estella in Great Expectations

A laboured journey that barely seems worth the effort

IF THE question you're asking is why we need yet another version of the Dickens novel, the answer upon seeing this umpteenth adaptation of Great Expectations is that we most probably don't.

There's nothing here that will challenge David Lean's immaculate 1946 telling, which remains definitive.

And this dry and stiff effort loses out in most regards to the recent BBC TV version, even though it also happens to be a BBC films production, which is a further cause for wonder.

It begins, as they all do, in the marshes of 19th century Kent, where young Pip runs afoul of escaped convict Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes), who forces the boy to help him. It's an opening that manages to have lesser production values and atmosphere than the TV series, which certainly shouldn't be the case, although later scenes are more handsomely realised.

In bringing him not only a file for his bonds, but some food and drink, Pip shows Magwitch an act of kindness that will have far-reaching consequences for them both.

But the criminal is soon recaptured and Pip subsequently summoned to the decaying mansion of Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter).

There he meets Estella, with whom he's destined to endure a troubled relationship. Jumping from boy to young man, Pip (now played by Jeremy Irvine, with Irvine's younger brother Toby having played Young Pip) is destined for a common blacksmith's life, until he receives word from a lawyer (Robbie Coltrane) that he has been left a fortune by a mysterious benefactor, and that he move to London to become a gentleman.

The recreation of the dank and filthy streets of London are flavourful, as Pip tries to fit into society through a series of less than scintillating episodes.

Stuffy and passionless, it stumbles along without focus, only lifted marginally whenever Magwitch or Miss Havisham appear.

Fine actors keep it tolerable and you'll find many a familiar face further down the cast, from Ewen Bremner to David Walliams, though Coltrane probably steals it with his affable turn.

But though competently crafted, this is a film lacking impetus. It's by the numbers and by the book and all the less interesting for it, directed with a bluntness that hits every mark on the nose and allows too many supporting players to deliver lines like automatons, while clunking music cues don't help.

It almost comes together in the end through the enduring power of the source as much as anything, but it's a laboured journey that hardly seems worth the effort.

Director: Mike Newell

Running time: 128 mins

SIGHTSEERS (15)

Sick, but splutteringly funny

THIRTYSOMETHING Tina (Alice Lowe) lives in the Midlands with her overbearing mother, and announces she's going on a caravanning holiday around the north of England with her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram), much to her mother's dismay.

Early hints that there's something odd about Chris soon give way to the truth – odd doesn't begin to describe him.

Individual plot details are best discovered as you go along, although if you've seen the trailer you'll have some idea of what follows, as through a series of dark and wickedly funny episodes we see that Tina is every bit as strange and damaged as Chris.

Written by Lowe and Oram, Sightseers deals in the same latent threat that director Ben Wheatley has utilised in his previous films, with the juxtaposition of everyday mundanity and savage violence leading to sequences of black comedy horror that are breathtaking in their audacity.

Just as Kill List turned a hitman thriller into The Wicker Man, this turns a Top Gear special into an episode of Psychoville, and while it's as sick as you please, it's splutteringly funny.

Director: Ben Wheatley

Running time: 88 mins

THE HUNT (15)

Good acting, clumsy plotting

LUCAS (Mads Mikkelsen) is a decent and caring kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town.

Klara, the daughter of his best friends and one of his pupils, is a young girl with a vivid imagination who falsely accuses Lucas of exposing himself, and he soon finds himself outcast by the entire town.

As a portrait of how quickly a few misplaced words can degenerate into a witch-hunt, this is all very sober and proficiently realised.

Yet as much as it chills and enrages, credibility is dealt a near-fatal blow by the clumsy plot mechanics that allow nearly every character to appear blinded by mob mentality or institutional mismanagement.

The headmistress who lets the accusations spread quickly, and the guy, whoever he may be, who comes in and puts words in Klara's mouth, just don't ring true, as it becomes increasingly hard to buy how such allegations could get so widespread without the proper authorities getting involved much sooner.

So for all that The Hunt is powerful, and stunningly acted by Mikkelsen, it's difficult to believe the way it escalates couldn't be mitigated by the right people simply having a conversation.

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Running time: 115 mins

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (PG)

Jaw-dropping restoration has to be seen to be believed

GLASGOW distributors Park Circus bring David Lean's multi Oscar-winning epic back to cinemas for its 50th anniversary.

Peter O'Toole made one of film's most striking debuts as TE Lawrence, the British soldier whose part in the Arab revolt during the First World War helped shape the entire region.

Visually stunning and impeccably mounted on a massive scale, it's as invigorating and compelling a historical adventure as has ever been made.

Don't miss the chance to catch it back on the big screen at Glasgow Film Theatre from December 2-4 in a jaw-dropping digital restoration that has to be seen to be believed.

Director: David Lean

Running time: 228 mins

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