Take one of Charles Dicken's most loved "rite of passage" stories. Add a stellar cast – Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane and Helena Bonham Carter. Mix wonderfully decayed Gothic mansions, dark, intimidating and putrid London street scenes. Stir in grey sodden Kentish marshes and a graveyard from Hammer films. A recipe for a memorable remake of "Great Expectations"?
It should be, but therein lies the disappointment.
The film is well-crafted. The settings are superb. Dickens provides his incomparable characters and plot twists.
Yet Helena Bonham Carter feels as if she is sleep-walking through her role as the decaying Miss Havisham, still obsessed by having been duped and jilted at the alter. She is more damaged than damaging – which is not, I think, what Dickens intended. Pip looks the part, but neither he nor Estella manage to bring their doomed passion to life. Robbie Coltrane is magnificent as the devious, secretive, venial lawyer who has no ethics other than being seen to follow the letter of the law. Ralph Fiennes has to morph to a fro from a scary villain into a soft-hearted benefactor, and does a very creditable job.
And yet the film does not come to life in the powerful way that we experience in the book, or in the previous David Lean production. And it does not give us a satisfying finale.
It is a good film on many levels, and is a fine introduction to the book. But one feels that it could have been so much better.