50 Shades of Pip: Great Expectations Review
Originally published on Junkee.
There’s good reason it feels like there’s a new version of Great Expectations released every few years. Because every few years, sometimes even less, a new version of Great Expectations is released.
This week, Mike Newell’s big screen BBC adaptation becomes the youngest of the Dickens litter. A visually lush production, Newell’s film offers some attractive set pieces and some notable performances: Hollywood big gun Ralph Fiennes is one of the few to BYO tension, and Helena Bonham Carter provides another characteristically ‘kooky’ turn as Miss Havisham. Unsatisfactorily swinging between unfeeling melodrama and pantomime (David Walliams is more Little Britain than Dickensian as arrogant caricature Uncle Pumblechook), Newell’s adaptation doesn’t offer much by way of originality or excitement.
By now everyone knows the story of the orphan who comes into a great fortune from a mysterious benefactor, so beyond being another pretty period drama with a handful key players, what else does Mike Newell’s Great Expectations bring to the crowded table?
The answer is simple: another Pip.
50 Shades of Pip (No Sexy)
After viewing Newell’s version, I became fixated on how many different portrayals of the iconic Victorian character there were out there. Over the last week I’ve viewed more than 900 minutes of Great Expectations without coming close to watching them all (Australian spin-off Great Expectations: The Untold Story remains unconquered). But once, twice, eight times an adaptation is absolutely enough.
So, for all this dicking around with Dickens, how do all the Pips fair against my, erm, great expectations?
2013: Great Expectations, Feature Film
Director: Mike Newell
Pip: Jeremy Irvine
Newell’s feature starts like most others before it: Young Pip the orphan runs through the foggy moors to visit his parents’ gravesite, and encounters an escaped convict. Typically, we spend some time with Young Pip and his stagey child-acting ways, meeting youthful Estella and eccentric Miss Havisham. Then, with a literal striking of iron, Pip is hot: a teenage blacksmith apprentice played by Jeremy Irvine. Initially, I was disconcerted by the likeness from child to young man, but it turns out that Young Pip was played by Jeremy’s brother Toby Irvine.
The elder Irvine cuts a dashing figure as blacksmith Pip: his untamed grubbiness calls Jon Snow to mind, and his distinct jawline provides a physical similarity to Rory Gilmore’s nice-guy boyfriend Dean (aka one of the Supernatural brothers). Even after his made-gentleman makeover Pip retains a typically masculine edge that harks to his poor, rough-handed upbringing compared with his prettied societal peers, the Finches (who look like they’d make a great emo band) and his camp friend, Pocket (Olly Alexander).
Pip circa 2013 is also quite an unsympathetic turd. Irvine and Newell acknowledged the fact that Pip–consumed by a social climbing ambition that is dark and foreboding–was a “little shit”, and that’s the Pip they deliver.
2011: Great Expectations, BBC TV Mini Series
Pip: Douglas Booth
Obviously, serialised versions of Great Expectations have more time to play with characters, and over three parts this 2011 mini series crafted a finely complex, morally conflicted and socially manipulated Pip. I thought Douglas Booth’s pouty lips and likeness to Rob Pattison would be irritating distractions, but Booth’s Pip is the right blend of internal turmoil, general sweetness and touch of mental instability. His longing for–and chemistry with–steely Estella (Vanessa Kirby) is palpable. (Apparently they dated after filming).
There’s lavish BBC production values, Emmy wins, Scully (Gillian Anderson) as Miss Havisham, displeasing wispy whiskers, and a great, deeply shaded, contemporary Pip.
2000: South Park, TV Series, Season 4 Episode 14 ‘Pip’
Pip: voiced by Matt Stone
In 2011, South Park creators Matt Stone declared ‘Pip’–their Great Expectations parody episode–one of their worst, saying that everybody “hated it”. But as a fan of both South Parkand period dramas, I loved this episode and this version of Pip.
Of all the adaptations–animated, dramatic, comedic, romantic–this was by far the shortest, which may count for something. But it was also, by far, the funniest. Starting like a Masterpiece Theatre presented by Malcolm McDowell, ”A British Person”, it ends fittingly with robot monkeys. Relying on Dickensian deja vu, ‘Pip’ is a silly satire on David Lean’s classic 1946 film, presenting an overly polite, civilised, *very British* (read with accent) and literally shaded Pip Pirrup.
1999: Great Expectations, BBC TV Movie
Pip: Ioan Gruffudd
From the opening exposition with the moody moor, and a Young Pip (Gabriell Thomson) with big brown eyes and a curly brown mop, this Masterpiece Theatre adaptation was always going to feel more melodramatic. Ioan Gruffudd–most recently seen in Ringer–is the least frosty and introverted of the Pips. With a touch of over-the-top ’90s styling, he was empathetic, self-serving at the right times, but definitely an evolved character. In fact, he may just be the most emo Pip of the bunch, with a super responsive face and inquisitive puppy dog eyes that lapped up Estella’s presence.
His one major floor was his scripted tendency to yell in response to shocking scenarios: there is no way of dramatically bellowing “ESTELLAAAA” without challenging Brando, Pip. And Brando will always win.
1998: Great Expectations, Feature Film
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Pip: Ethan Hawke (as Finn)
Remember the ’90s Hollywood take on Dickens’ classic, that transformed scholar Pip into artist Finn; the British moors into sunny Florida; London into New York; Estella into Gwyneth Paltrow, and put Tori Amos on the soundtrack? I know I said “No Sexy” in the subtitle, but boy does this Dickens try to ram it down your throat. By attempting to chart Finn’s coming of age through sexual encounters, Cuarón’s Great Expectations fails where Y Tu Mamá También succeeds.
Two tongues touching over a drinking fountain–even if they belong to nymphet Paltrow and grunge era-dream Hawke–does not erotica make. A fact that is particularly true when the tongues belong to histrionic Young Finn (Jeremy James Kissner) and Estella. Call me prudish, but her line in the book, “You may kiss me if you like”, is far less awkward and gross.
The film does get some points for casting hotties with bodies Paltrow and Ethan, a fingerbang scene, and some semi-nude waif shots. The points are lost to Hawke’s overacting, the terrible wig he has to wear as a teen and, sadly, the pair’s lack of chemistry. Egomaniac Finn spoon-feeds the audience his inner turmoil via some overcooked narration (reportedly written byShoshanna’s dad, David Mamet, which he understandably tries to keep quiet), one of the many reasons why this Pip proves an unloveable jerk.
1983: Great Expectations, Animation
Burbank Films Australia
Practically the animated version of Ioan Gruffald’s Pip, but with an Australian accent.
1976: Great Expectations, TV Movie
Director: Joseph Hardy
Pip: Michael York
I actually couldn’t watch Michael York as Pip because to me, York will always be Professor Asher Fleming, Paris’ lover in Gilmore Girls. Feel free to convince me otherwise.
1946: Great Expectations, Feature Film
Director: David Lean
Pip: John Mills
David Lean’s Great Expectations is considered THE British lit-to-screen version, even opening with an image of a book. This is the quintessential Pip: iconic, and mocked the world over. He’s not brooding; rather, Phillip Pirrip circa 1946 is an adorable Aryan dork who dresses in leprechaun finery and knows only kindness and manners.As a young orphan (Anthony Wagner), he looks upon the world with a wide-eyed wonder and gullible generosity. Even his pie-thieving guilt manifests through talking animals–cows and rabbits hurl accusations at him as he passes. He’d be friends with kittens.
It’s a similar schtick for John Mills’ grown Pip, who may be mindfully manipulated by surrounding puppet-masters, but is too full of heart to be detrimentally effected. A clean-cut British incarnation, Pip’s moral downfall is barely touched upon here and, while dorky, he’s too sweet to be distasteful.
This version is available in full online. You’re welcome.