Great Expectations (1999)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Romantic Drama  |   Run Time - 168 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Mike Cummings

This 1999 BBC production combines brilliant cinematography, acting, and costume design to create a masterly production that captures the soul of Charles Dickens' finest book, Great Expectations (1861). The story chronicles the rise of young Philip Pirrip -- Pip for short -- from humble blacksmith apprentice to proud gentleman. Along the way, the camera first roves the sullen gloom of the Kentish countryside and the stark interior of a decaying mansion, then explores the winding back streets of seamy London. Light constantly wars with shadow, and occasionally the vivid red of a bloody nose or a butchered pig daubs a crass splotch upon the canvas. The actors are all nearly perfect for their parts -- from gigantic Clive Russell as kindly Joe Gargery, to beautiful Justine Waddell as Pip's first and only love, the elusive Estella. As the story unfolds, Gabriel Thomson (the young Pip) wins the sympathy of the audience with innocent vulnerability, and Ioan Gruffuds (the adult Pip) retains this sympathy even though his character allows money and status to rule his life, at least for a while. Apparently Gruffuds and director Julian Jarrold realized that there is much that is modern in Pip. Like a misguided yuppie, he chooses power and position over friends and family, pride and vanity over humility and modesty. After Pip realizes his mistakes, Gruffuds wisely forgoes sentimentality when he acts out Pip's redemption and his reconciliation with the people he loves. Other notable performances abound, in particular those of Waddell, Russell, Charlotte Rampling as Miss Haversham, Ian McDiarmid as Jaggers, and Bernard Hill as Abel Magwitch. The period costumes of the village and city dwellers earned the motion picture a top British award. The production itself won an Emmy nomination for Best Miniseries after it debuted on American television.