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Film Review: The Pros and Cons of Watching Great Expectations the Movie

Updated on December 5, 2011

Studying Great Expectations in class, and tossing up whether to watch the movie over reading the book? Simply hoping to enrich the Dickens experience? Read on!


Pro: It's visual.

Yes, you could arguably rephrase this pro to say "it's shorter than the three-volume classic" - but as we will see, that turns out to be more of a con. Thus, the upside is simply that the modern film adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic has been brought to life visually, for those of you who lack imagination. If steamy shots of Gwyneth Paltrow is your thing, anyway. (See the evidence in the video below!) Although it is hard to see how Dickens' wonderful imagination won't influence your own, when you read Pip's exciting, unpredictable adventure in print.

Con: It's overly condensed.

Okay, so maybe it's hard to fit a three-volume classic into a single feature-length film, but come on. Where were the fearful Orlick and Compeyson? Or the curious but lovable post-box-mouthed Wemmick? Not to mention, what happened to the whole life story of Abel "Provis" Magwitch (a.k.a. Arthur Lustig)? For those considering passing up the novel for the film, beware: you are going to miss a LOT of detail. Detail that's juicy and enthralling.

Pro: Robert De Niro.

Couldn't have picked a better convict. Definitely scary, but oddly enough we are able to feel some sympathy for him in the end as he lays dying in Pip's arms (a.k.a. Finn), just as we do in the novel.

Con: Estella is not Estella.

BIGGEST upset of all. The beauty of Estella in Great Expectations is her cruel heartlessness. She never reciprocates Pip's aching love (although perhaps does at the very end) - but oh ho ho! In the film, they KISS. As KIDS. And then there's some naked steamy bits when they're grown up. Hmm... One interpretation of the film version of Estella is that she longs to express these feelings towards Pip, but because of her adopted mother and social standing, cannot find the strength to do so, wherein lies the tragedy.

Well, I still feel this is contrary to Dickens' characterization of her. Estella's case, in the novel, is far more extreme - Miss Havisham (a.k.a. Ms. Dinsmoor) has totally deprived Estella of all ability to love and has turned her into a beautiful, yet heartbreaking young woman, set to wreak havoc on all men, starting with Pip's "...mechanical heart to practise on". She NEVER teases Pip nor leads him on - she makes it clear that she will never love him, despite his growing feelings and fanciful imagination.

Pro: It's set in modern times, using today's English.

Okay, well... Again, this is more of a con in some ways. However, there is no doubt that the film is far simpler to follow in terms of language and the modern day context. Dickens does tend to describe everything in great detail... Which admittedly isn't everyone's cup of tea.

Con: Name changes and other strange occurrences.

Okay, Miss Havisham to Ms Nora Dinsmoor? I fail to see the exciting pun in the new name. "Hav-i-sham" - or have a sham [wedding] - is to-the-point and strange. Like Miss Havisham. Who happens to be obviously jilted (all the yellowing bridal wear and wedding items are a general indicator...) and almost alien in nature - being the heartbroken, wretched spinster that she is.

Furthermore, what is Finn's art show all about? So, Pip has no talents, doesn't really accomplish much, thus his great expectations, or ambitions, are essentially artificial and shallow. Way to make that blatantly obvious by chucking in a few terrible drawings... Perhaps a successful artist in New York is a reasonable comparison to a 19th century London gentleman, but this change was just... weird.

BIG WARNING: No, Pip's older sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery (a.k.a. Maggie), is neither affectionate nor kind. In reality, she is harsh and punishes Pip cruelly by forcing him to consume "tar-water". It is conceivable that she has an affair with Pumblechook, but Dickens never outright tells us this. She certainly does not run away - she is struck (eventually) dead by a fatal blow to the head at the hands of Orlick.

Try to miss those facts in an essay. A+, here we come...

Pro: It's exciting and action-packed.

I can't verify this, as I found little thrill in watching a stranger rewrite the beloved classic before my eyes. Maybe I'm biased, but I thought the novel was far more exciting...

Con: Alfonso effectively urinated on Charles' grave.

There, I said it. That is how much I vehemently despised the film. Want to contest me? Why not read the book!


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    • samanthamayer profile image

      samanthamayer 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Well, I'm definitely a Dickens lover, so I'm hard to please. But yes, the older movie is much more accurate at least. Thank you :)

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 6 years ago from North-East UK

      The David Lean movie is more in keeping with the Dickens story and its not too condensed, most of the guts of Dickens book is in there. I agree with you though that the book is better. Books almost always are. I haven't seen this more up to date version because I prefer the Victorian clothing etc. Voted up.