Director Mike Newell mounts a pretty, gritty version of Charles Dickens' classic "Great Expectations," but doesn't do anything to set it apart from the dozen other adaptations that have come before.
Jeremy Irvine (the hero of "War Horse") is handsome enough as Pip, the young man who is taken from his life as a blacksmith's apprentice to become a gentleman in London. But Irvine's a bit bland, which is in keeping with the rest of the movie.
It takes us a while to get to the adult Pip, though. Newell and screenwriter David Nicholls ("Day One") first introduce us to the young Pip (played by Irvine's little brother, Toby), an orphan living with his abusive sister (Sally Hawkins) and her kindly husband, Joe (Jason Flemyng), a blacksmith.
Two important encounters follow that will factor into Pip's later life. One is with an escaped convict (Ralph Fiennes), whom Pip helps to freedom. The other is with the strange noblewoman, Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), who lives in the nearby mansion and still wears the decaying white dress from a long-ago wedding that never happened. Living with Miss Havisham is her adopted daughter, Estella (played as a child by Helena Barlow), who is being raised to hate and manipulate all men.
After this tedious build-up, the story moves forward with a lawyer, Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane), informing Pip of a mysterious benefactor whose fortune will support Pip's gentleman's life in London. It's there that Pip again meets Estella (now played by Holliday Grainger), who spurns him in order to marry the horrid young tycoon Bentley Drummle (Ben Lloyd-Hughes).
Newell and Nicholls try to thread some of Dickens' social commentary through the dense story. But there's so much plot, and so many juicy characters especially the crazed Miss Havisham, who's like catnip to a filmmaker or an actress that it's difficult to cram it all into two hours.
But cram it they do, often at the cost of the rich detail or character depth that Dickens invested in his story. Not even Bonham Carter, excellent in short bursts as the spurned woman in self-imposed exile, rises far enough above the fast-flowing current of this "Great Expectations" to avoid drowning in it.
A handsomely staged, but dramatically inert, adaptation of the Dickens classic.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas; Megaplex 20 at The District (South Jordan).
When • Opens Friday, Nov. 15.
Rating • PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images.
Running time • 128 minutes.