Friday, 28 December 2012

Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)

"I don't like the way this script of ours has turned out. It's turning into a seedy little drama"


David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin surely watched this film hundreds of times before beginning their own careers. Indeed, Sorkin paid his respects to Network upon winning his Academy Award for The Social Network. Writer Paddy Chayefsky is one of only two screenwriters (alongside Woody Allen) to have won a Academy award for three films, as a solo writer. This film remains relevant and it is shockingly critical of television, cinema and media as a whole.

A Voice for the Audience

Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is an anchorman with failing ratings for his TV show. Realising he will be 'let go', he reveals - live on air - that he will kill himself. On TV. Next week. This single act sets in motion events that slowly reveal how sordid and spineless the TV station is - Beales popularity soars as his madness becomes a quasi-circus act as he preaches every night his attitude towards the problems in the world. Audiences lap it up and slowly, this crazed man becomes the most important man on TV. A product of the corruptness the media are happy to continue exploiting - especially as the success of Beale means success for the TV station, satisfying the demands of 'the money'; aka, the stakeholders.

Roger Ebert explains how, interestingly, though central to the story Howard Beale's madness and success is merely a 'macguffin', a story that really gives us a sense of context for the story of Diane Christiansen (Faye Dunaway), the "ratings hungry programming executive who is prepared to do anything for the numbers" as she begins a relationship with Max Schumacher (William Holden) as he realises the old-days are over and the new-class are taking over.

Tell Me About the Media

I would not be the first to wax-lyrical about the 'state of television' and how Network was clearly unaware of Jerry Springer, The X-Factor and Big Brother - you can find that easily enough on the internet. But it is interesting to compare the film to an equally shocking film directed by Spike Lee: Bamboozled.

Both satirical attacks on the media industry, Spike Lee manages to shock us with the depiction of racial stereotypes and the use of African-American images and ideas in the modern media. Though Sidney Lumet doesn't focus on the racial representation in the media, they both build to a climax whereby the outcome of the greed and immorality of the business itself results in a step too far - a TV-show that depicts black-face and obscene stereotypes and a decision to kill the performer live on air. Both films aspire to a realist-edge, Spike Lee using digital handheld cameras and behind-the-scenes sequences in Network add an air of authenticity. Both films don't feel too far from the truth. When we reflect on reality TV - and the moments whereby channels have apologised for the decisions to broadcast a situation (Jade Goody's racist tirade on the UK Big Brother, young Hollie Steel on Britains Got Talent), it can't be long before TV stations are held responsible for their actions. I think we could all easily stand up - ""I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!"

The many, memorable speeches reflect attitudes that remain relevant in 2012 - a core speech details how everything is a part of one system and how dehumanising the world is. The bitter conflict surrounds the way the media needs to represent itself (its about you! its about informing you!) and what its actual objective is (Its about us. And we can only survive with money. From you). When you consider the recent phone scandals leading to the Leveson enquiry and you consider the awful truth behind Jimmy Saville in the UK ... the same conflict is at the center. The balance of morals under the pressure of capitalism - and the need to make money.


Joshua Klein writes in 1001 Movies to See Before You Die how Network is a "cynical treatise on the moral and ethical decline of television", going further by stating how it is "a damning portrayal of not just the television providers but us, the compulsive television viewers". It is and we are.

The change that Sidney Lumet, Spike Lee and others expect comes from us. We are the viewers and we dictate the creation of these programmes and whether they will continue. I would like to believe that the cynicism many have towards reality TV will continue - the pseudo-reality beginning to rub off and lose its edge. Big Brother changed its channel in the UK due to dwindling numbers - so the end is nigh. Klein also highlights how "sensationalism and tawdriness of TV is exactly what keeps us coming back", and maybe so. But celebrity culture [I hope] is perceived as cheap - and sporting icons in the Olympics celebrated and valued. I can only hope this continues to shape the media - and inspire a generation. Maybe we have stood up - and we're not taking it any more. Indeed, I'm not.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974)

"He conquered fear, and he conquered hate, / He turned dark night into day, / He made his blazing saddle / A torch to light the way... "


Blazing Saddles is regularly highlighted as a film amongst the very best of feature film comedy. Indeed, 'Comedy' as a genre (is it a genre?) is rarely considered at awards ceremonies. Maybe a token gesture of a screenplay nomination (recently for Little Miss Sunshine and Bridesmaids), but rarely could it win - the last one was Annie Hall in 1977. The very best comedic achievements, I believe, is rooted in the controversy that surrounds the film. In that regard, Blazing Saddles sits alongside the great pieces of comedic film-making such as Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' and Dr Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Love The Bomb. Rather than tackling the Christian faith or the fear of atomic-energy, Mel Brooks created a comedy that destroys the assumption that Westerns represent America. Any assumption that Blazing Saddles represents America would be met with narrowed-eyes and offence - and rightly so. The film was controversial as it satirizes the racism within a Western - instead, placing a black man at the center of the story as he takes the role of a new Sheriff in a town of white folk. Even now, with its direct and blunt attitude towards racism - happily using the 'N' word - it can feel a little awkward on the first watch. Like the best comedies, it makes you think about the bigger ideas - in this case, racism in the US and the reality of the situation in the 1970's.

From the Start

From the minute we arrive on the railroad track, we see the minority groups working as despicable white-men order them to sing. In a brilliant change of mood, the African-American's sing "I Get A Kick Out of You" (Though replacing the word "kick" with belt...) as Lyle (Burton Gilliam) then makes a mockery of himself as he provides an example as to what the African-American's "should" be singing. Within minutes, the joke is clearly set on the ignorant white men - whilst the black men clearly see the racist attitudes as laughable and ludicrous. There is a clear intelligence behind the workers - and rather than act in anger and frustration, they act in sarcasm and comedic-shock. Within the same sequence, our lead character Bart (Cleavon Little) and a friend become stuck in quicksand - the white bosses ignore the men and happily let them die. They do not react in anger - they are simply mock-shocked at the lack of value placed on their lives ("nearly lost a $400 hand cart") before, calmly, banging their employers over the head with a shovel.  

Throughout the film, this type of comedy is portrayed - a combination of slapstick humour and mockery of the prejudices people hold. Nothing manages to get away from the script, penned by Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Alan Uger and Richard Pryor. Ethnicity, Sexuality, Disability - you name it; in some way a joke is mentioned to laugh at. In this manner, it is clear that the film is made purely for comedy rather than a personal attack on any one group of people - the most offended are those who are prejudiced themselves.


A.O. Scott writes how he doesn't believe Blazing Saddles is racist; instead he says that it is "a bold and provocative critique of racism". By opening in the manner described, it will already divide opinion as to whether the use of such terms - even as comedy - is acceptable. But the finale breaks the film, literally, out of the studio and into our lives. It goes as far as to say how the issue presented is about our own prejudices. It is about our treatment of others and the struggles those in a minority have to face daily. Brooks is telling us that this is not limited to the screen and the film - it is outside and in the streets and we should change our own attitudes to stop this ridiculous segregation in society. These are issues which, 18 years later, remain relevant. Having said that, Karen Krizanovich writes superbly about the film, and notes how it isn't political about the issues of racism but instead "makes the whole concept of racism absurd" - as indeed it is.


The complaints about the release of Scary Movie 5 is not without reason, but suffice to say, that very type of film-making owes a debt to Blazing Saddles. The writing in Blazing Saddles ensures that the film remains within the most influential comedy-film category too as, rather than merely making jokes, it becomes almost a sketch show as scenes have jokes that completely stand alone - the Nazi's and KKK members amongst the lynch mob; the iconic [first time on cinema screen] farts around the campfire. Even Gene Wilder's 'Waco Kid' shooting so fast, you can't see the bullet (aka. the filmmakers don't need to show the bullet), could be a single sketch about westerns on its own. This type of back-to-back jcomedy - a relentless onslaught of jokes that ignore context, characters and necessity - simply using any joke that will make a laugh leads directly to Airplane! and Spaceballs. And consequently, to spoof-cinema - including the Scary Movie series.

The crucial difference between Scary Movie 5 and Blazing Saddles is how the latter remains funny (whilst the former, I expect, will fail to make me laugh at all). Gene Wilder is a brilliant drunk-Deputy to Bart and, ultimately, turns out to be the only semi-intelligent white character. The range of characters within the town are equally hilarious - especially the older-lady who takes her time to, shall we say, "warm" to Sheriff Bart. 

The film set a precedent that managed to provoke discussion whilst, at the same time, happily played the comedy to a wide-audience, garnering a huge box-office and becoming one of the first films to top $100m at the time. Richard Pryor was originally expected to take the lead role, but was refused as the producers believed he was (a) too controversial in his stand-up routines and (b) took too many drugs. In either case, the outcome of the film became more about the writing and the openness of the themes rather than a controversial actor in a lead role - and so, Pryor is remembered for his part in writing the film rather than becoming the 'face' of Blazing Saddles. And it truly should be the writing that we should take away from it - then again, since 1974, hasn't every film taken this away from it?

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012)

"He said you had a story that would make me believe in God"


Published in 2001, Yann Martel's novel managed to grab the attention of the world. A personal story about an Indian boy stranded on a boat with a Bengal tiger was hardly the story to win the world over. But it did, truly a book that fascinates you from the beginning. From the perspective of Piscine - aka Pi - he explains why Zoo's can be stunning, beautiful places for animals. We are convinced of his multiple faiths - as Pi is a Hindu, Christian and Muslim and, soon enough, we are stranded on the boat with a Tiger, Orangutan, a Hyena and a Zebra - and Pi. How could such an extraordinary situation be depicted in a film?

Passing it On

My own interest in the story is due to my love of the films by M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan himself, akin to Pi, was born in Pondicherry and in 2003, Shyamalan was hired by Fox to direct and write the film after the film The Village. Instead, Shyamalan directed The Lady in the Water, and passing through the hands of Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film eventually landed on the lap of Ang Lee, who managed to work with scriptwriter David Magee to begin production. The film openly tackles faith and spirituality - and though this was an attribute Shyamalan would've been ideal for, Lee's own approach rooted the story in themes revolving around family and story-telling - two themes which occur often in Lee's films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Ice Storm.

The film rests on the shoulders of the special effects - and they truly are stunning. The opening credits alone maximize the 3D as animals reach out of frame and scuttle across the shot. Even the main-act as Pi (Suraj Sharma) remains on the boat, Lee manages to experiment with a wide variety of techniques ensuring that you are never left uninterested. Fish fly in and out-of-frame as Lee adjusts the aspect ratio; when the ship crashes in the first act, we see Zebra and animals jumping and swimming on deck in the midst of rough rain and wind. Crucially, you believe it. There is no unsatisfying sequence - even as the colours become vivid and almost-animated in their depiction, it doesn't jar or seem out-of-place. The Adventures of Tintin was often seen as an example of a style of film-making that didn't know whether it was real or animated - Life of Pi does not have this problem, clearly supposed to be dreamlike, it never rings false.

Framing and Family

Book-ended by an unnamed writer (Rafe Spall) discussing the events with an older Pi (Irrfan Khan), the story is told in flashback akin to Oscar-winning films such as Forrest Gump, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Titanic. In that regard, though I think it will be nominated, I don't think it truly has the capability of a Best Picture winner; it doesn't have the same scale as Slumdog Millionaire, despite its cultural prowess (it even includes a romantic sub-plot which feels forced). This framing of the story gives the film a sense of authority and truth - despite the strangeness of the core-story. Spall and Khan are truly engaging, holding the film together as we - like the writer - are keen to hear how this story will help us "believe in God". Spirituality and God is discussed from the start of the film; we are well aware of the religious sentiments to the story, but the film still manages to keep your faith intact. Indeed, your enjoyment of the film will not be altered depending on your chosen faith.

This is a film that is for the family to watch. A film that, after the viewing, you can discuss, argue and debate long into the night. The idea that children and adults alike will start conversations about faith, truth and story-telling is truly the films crowning achievement. It is accessible - and yet ends in a way that forces you, as a viewer, to reconsider where you stand, and your judgement of others. Life of Pi could have been a film that was aimed at adults exclusively - indeed, the subject matter tackles a child that loses his entire family in one tragic disaster. The film could have been rooted in horror and danger; a tiger on a boat is hardly going to be seen as a cuddly teddy bear. The end of the film could be revealed in a manner that visually shocks you to the core - but Lee did not want to make that film (Maybe M. Night. Shyamalan did?) - he wanted to make a film that tackled some of the most important human-issues of faith and truth, and he made it accessible to all.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)

"It must be the most marvelous supper. We may not eat it, but it must be marvelous."


This is paddling into the Lubitsch territory. Master filmmaker Billy Wilder co-wrote some late-Lubitsch pictures, and turned to him for inspiration on a daily basis by placing a sign on his desk to turn to when in doubt: "What would Lubitsch have done?" was all it read.

Trouble in Paradise is additionally an example of a Pre-Code film. Released in 1932, it was not approved by the Production Code and was refused re-issue in 1935 due to the innuendo and overt sexuality of the characters, and consequently hidden away until 1968. A film that defined "The Lubitsch Touch", containing all the trademark elements of the filmmaker, locked away for over thirty-years is simply tragic. It is difficult to imagine how we would feel if, three years after release, our favourite film vanished, unavailable to easily-access. Truly it is one of those things which we take for granted in a day and age whereby films sit online, to access instantaneously.

Two Thieves in the Night

The set-up is genius as two characters try to out-con each other, only to reveal that they are both thieves. Lily (Miriam Hopkins), a pickpocket, attempts to outsmart Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), a master thief on the run. The intelligence in the script resides in how we, as viewers, do not initially know each character. We are unsure whether Gaston is a thief; and for a moment, we are unsure about Lily too. The story leads us slowly to understand that they are both trying to outsmart each other - eventually falling for each other. This set-up is playful and personal - already establishing the lovers from the get-go.

But it is Gaston's story as he moves into Madame Marriette Colet's (Kay Francis) house, hired as the accountant for her and the perfume business she owns. Inevitably perhaps, the true motive between the two becomes unclear as business and pleasure becomes hazy. Is Gaston falling for Colet? Is Colet falling for Gaston? Is Gaston conning Colet, by pretending to fall for her? We are not told until the final act...


The pace and playfulness of the film is summarised by two sequences that highlight Lubitsch's flair and inventiveness. To depict the daily life of Madame Colet, we see the various greetings she states and others say to her in a series of quick-cuts. Characters repeat the phrase "Hello"/"hello"/"goodbye"/"Hello", etc. We see the many different shop-tailors and assistants speak to her - clearly they know her well. This simple series of events highlight her flippant attitude towards finance and the amount of money she has. To some extent, it is clear that she is quite foolish and unaware about how open she is with her money.

The second sequence that captures the skill of Lubitsch is when the camera remains static on a clock as we hear the commotion surrounding the clock at different intervals to represent the passing of time. Again, a slight change in lighting and sound is what clarifies the situation - and it is effortless as we imagine the surrounding elements. In a similar manner, in one scene, Gaston and Colet kiss on a sofa as it fades out and then, fading back in, it reveals the empty sofa and then cuts to the characters walking between rooms. Without a line in the script; without a revealing shot; the characters have had sex.

A Social Balance

A story that revolves around theft from the upper class will always have a clear agenda regarding its social context. Indeed, our introduction to Madame Colet supports our disgust with the wealth of the upper class when she purchases a hand bag for $125,000. She loses it and, upon placing an advert in the paper for finding the bag, many people arrive to - potentially - gain the reward. One man argues our own opinion and shouts at her "fool! fool!" with regards to spending such an amount of money on a handbag.

But, considering the small cast, the tension lies in Gaston and his attitude. His criminal lifestyle, we wonder, is it through greed or envy. Does he simply want to take everything? Or does he, deep down, seek to be the same upper-class accountant he purports to be? His love for her fueled by a lust for the same equal stance in society - indeed, his dialect and posture indicates a clear understanding of the upper-class.

Such a tension how, on the surface it is merely a man choosing who he really loves whilst, bubbling under the narrative, is a personal conflict regarding wealth, status and the definition of greed. I can see where Billy Wilder managed to get the confidence to tackle stories of such sadness and sorrow (such as The Lost Weekend and Double Indemnity) in a manner that is light and playful - Lubitsch does it here in Trouble in Paradise. Walking out of a cinema and, despite laughing and smiling whilst watching the film, you ponder the  Western attitudes to class, really is a testament to film-making that aspires to be so much more than entertainment.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Do The Right Film

Whereby I discuss the choice to pay to watch a film ...

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed a back-and-forth between myself and a number of other bloggers regarding writer Adam Batty from and his twitter-comment of the recent Hitchcock. He wrote:

"Hitchcock was dreadful, and in Hopkins contains the worst performance of the year, if not the decade." - @AdamHopeLies

I think the big issue is regarding my own RT of his tweet - despite not seeing the film myself.

Should I remain resolute? Should I cease to comment or reveal my incoming-opinion, formed by the writers I read?

The nature of film-blogging and writing on film, often gives the impression that we are on a quest to view every film on release; that we staunchly hold our judgement until we watch the film. There is a truth to this when those who haven't seen a film passionately defend or insult a film - clearly that is an uninformed and uneducated opinion.

But we are all a product of our own foibles and experiences. We know what type of film we like and what we will expect when viewing a film. Trailers, reviews and 'tweets' all give a hint about what we could expect.

Though critics and opinions can be completely against our own, the opinion on Hitchcock is out. Adam's tweet - alongside countless other critics negative views - means that the film is unlikely to be a knockout. Maybe I'll like it a little bit more than the general consensus - but statistically, its is exceptionally unlikely that it will get into my best films of the year. I'll reserve any type of true judgement until I see it - but the bottom line is, I have to make a decision as to which films I will watch; and which ones I don't.

And Hitchcock, despite being a fan of The Master of Suspense's canon, I don't initially plan on seeing. And I make no apology for this. If I am sent to 'cover' it on behalf of a website or publication; I will. Happily. But to pay for it? Nope. I've yet to see Amour, Silver Linings Playbook or Seven Psychopaths. I also have a stack of films on my 'to-watch' list including New York, New York, Crimes and Misdemeanors and The Rescuers. My time is too precious - and they all take precedent.

I will not watch a film because it is touted as an Oscar contender (we shall see...) - and I surely won't pay to watch it purely for an opinion. There are hundreds of films that are in the vessels of history that have earned awards - but I haven't seen them. This time next year, I ask myself, will Hitchcock be remembered? Indeed, will it earn any awards at all? Why should a film, simply due to its timely release and excessive publicity garner my attention over others? It needs to be relevant and important enough to gain my time and currently, Hitchcock has not gained that attention from me.

Ironically, I saw a trailer for the 'other' Hitchcock-bio film - The Girl, and, so far, it has gained my attention.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

"I guess Rosebud is just a... piece in a jigsaw puzzle... a missing piece"


After analysing every film in the Sight & Sound Top 10, we finish on Citizen Kane. Of course we do. Only now has the film been “dethroned” from the top spot, after residing there for 50 years. Truly, it earned its place. Should it remain untouchable? Surely it shouldn’t remain at the top of the poll forever, should it? I would be happy if it did. If, as all the films swapped and interchanged – many vanishing from the Top 10 completely – I would firmly, indefinitely and concretely ensure Citizen Kane remains. Ground-breaking, profound and personal and created by a genius; I support its immovability. What a shame then, that it moved down a spot in 2012.

Orson Welles

The starting point is always Orson Welles. Akin to Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, Citizen Kane has become mythic in its status in history partly due to the creator, and the many talents he had. We are fascinated by writer-directors – and we often laugh at the audacity of their self-casting within films like Reservoir Dogs and Signs. Orson Welles chose not-only to write, direct and produce the film; he also took the titular role; portraying a man from his young-twenties through to old-age. This brave decision is the type of choice that oozes genius – supreme confidence and, crucially, the correct casting.

Welles has a cherub-like charm that carries the film on his shoulders alone – and features that remain when he is made-up to look like an old man. The film covers the rise and fall; life and death of Charles Foster Kane; a shrewd businessman; a political force; a paranoid recluse. Partly influenced by the life and times of the media-magnate William Randolph Hearst, it was a film of its time that, through Hearst’s influence, newspaper coverage was slim – and it failed at the box-office. But, a good film doesn’t hide away and positive reviews kept the film known. Bit-by-bit, Citizen Kane became the masterpiece as it is known today. It’s also worth noting that Welles was only 24 years old he made the film – and to think that he achieved all this at such a youthful age adds to his genius status.

Writing, Direction … and Innovation

But Welles was not alone in creating the film. He co-wrote the script, and the story is broken-up, told from the perspective of a reporter investigating the final word Kane stated on his deathbed: “Rosebud”. We are told about Kane through his friends, family and lover – and the different perspectives reveal a different side to him. He was a public figure – a showman. But, socially and personally, he had identity issues – isolating himself from the world in an incomplete fortress - Xanadu. He pines after his childhood, symbolised by his precious sled; the aforementioned “Rosebud”.

Pauline Kael argued that this story is what certifies Citizen Kane as a masterpiece – and, rather than crediting Orson Welles with this, she supported a popular opinion that co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz is the real master behind the film.

But, the story alone is not what separates this film from the rest of the pack. Technically, the film is almost a how-to use-a-camera tool-kit. Dissecting each scene, you can find numerous techniques that were ahead of their time – everything from the ground-breaking use of deep-focus (though Mizoguchi used it before 1941) through to the continuous shot from behind a gate and, despite the instruction to not trespass, we do, by hovering over and into Xanadu. One shot, revealing a lover of Welles manages to pass through a glass roof and another shot is situated in the ground, looking at such an angle that Welles had to adjust the flooring to get so low. Gregg Toland is attributed to the majority of these techniques – but again, it was Welles that managed to include the young Toland in his production crew.

Bernard Herrman’s score is simply fascinating – changing completely as the scene adapts to suit the different perspective discussed. The casting includes the scene-stealing Joseph Cotton, who would go on to appear in Shadow of a Doubt and The Third Man. The make-up to give the impression that 24-year old Welles would look like an aging man – inspired by Make Way for Tomorrow – is flawless, still standing the test of time today. The list goes on and on.

So much more…

Barry Norman writes how the film “speaks afresh to each succeeding generation” and this truly is Orson Welles crowning achievement. It is no surprise that people compared this to The Social Network (not that it compares that much) – but I’m sure you could find countless biopics and life-stories that owe a debt to Citizen Kane. Indeed, most films owe a debt to Citizen Kane. This is a film that has influenced almost every successful or critically-acclaimed director – Spielberg, Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson … and everyone else. This short analysis is not enough – and indeed, there are many books available to support every different aspect which has established this film amongst the very best. I cannot think of a film amongst the Top 10 that is accessible and yet technically ground-breaking, and also created in such a unique set of circumstances that it could never be remade. It is the film you would use as an argument to prove that films from the 1940’s are incredible. It is a film you would use to convince someone that these lists matter. And it is a film that, despite its shift from the top spot in the poll, will never be truly removed. As it remains the Greatest Film of All-Time in virtually every other poll in the world. And I whole-heartedly agree.

Epilogue: This brings to a close an analysis of every film in the 2012 Top 10 Greatest Films of All-Time. I hope you attempt the same challenge and, when you do, read the previous analysis linked below:

2. Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Great Expectations (Mike Newell, 2012)

"Do you wish to see Miss Havishman?"


As the closing-night film of the London Film Festival, I believed Mike Newell’s Great Expectations was clearly re-imagining a classic story for modern audiences. Rather than following in the footsteps of Alfonso Cuaron, whereby his 1998 Great Expectations was set in modern-day New York starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Ethan Hawke and Robert De Niro, this interpretation harks back further to David Lean’s original rather than any contemporary piece. Written by David Nicholl’s (Writer and Director of One Day), this film clearly attempts to gain the interest of a younger audience, despite its period-setting. The trailer tells us “from the Director of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and ensures Helena Bonham Carter recalls her Tim-Burton-esque roles as the unsettling Miss Havisham. Lead-role ‘Pip’ is played by Jeremy Irvine, coming off his War Horse, and his rugged “old-fashioned-but-not-really” look seems to clearly target the Robert Pattinson fans. I fear that this Great Expectations will surely guarantee many school-trips and repeatable-viewings in English lessons – and may even con a few teenagers into paying for a ticket on a Friday night.

A Classic Story

The story presents us with Pip, a young-boy (Toby Irvine) who, upon visiting the grave of his Mother, is approached by an escaped-convict Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes). Pip manages to smuggle food to Magwitch, alongside stealing an axe to remove the chains. Soon after, Pip is sent for to ‘play’ in the house of Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter) – a wide-eyed recluse – who has an adopted daughter in Estella (Helena Barlow). The class-divide is clear as Pip is the son of a blacksmith (Jason Flemyng) whilst Estella, living in the mansion with Miss Havisham, clearly has a high-opinion of herself - apparently raised to break the hearts of men. Through an unfortunate event, Pip stops visiting the mansion and continues to support his family as a blacksmith – until a lawyer, Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane), reveals that an anonymous bidder has ‘Great Expectations’ for Pip (now played by Jeremy Irvine) and will pay for him to live in London to become a ‘Gentleman’…

The story is renowned for its depiction of the social-divide and the attitudes people have to wealth and success. The definition of success in the family of Pip - happiness, marriage and love - opposed to the isolation and loneliness of Miss Havisham are all facets which, from the first act, you clearly appreciate. The type of criminal Magwitch is – opposed to the sins of other characters, are revealed through the story and again highlight an injustice between those of affluence, and those without. The setting between the country and landscape of Kent, opposed to the dirty hustle and bustle of London, again, portray the two differing attitudes to life – and the huge divide and difference between living an urban lifestyle rather than living in the rural outsider counties. These are timeless details which relate directly to the original literature by Charles Dickens.

Kent in all it’s Glory

Considering how important location is in Great Expectations, it is a god-send that the highlight of the film is in the depiction of Kent. The wide-shots portraying the vast landscapes manage to capture something mythic about the area - such beauty in the land is something that is core to the film. How would an alternate-version of the story look? Whereby the city-life was praised opposed to the muddy and dull country? At any rate, the stunning locale is highlighted by sunlight reflecting on the water whilst horses and carriages gently roll across the Isle of Sheppey.

But ironically, outside of Kent, the setting seems to feel quite small-in-scale. For a different website, I wrote an analysis of David Lean’s Great Expectations, discussing how it managed to capture the fascination with old-traditions represented by the decaying-house – in 1946, Lean's version followed Xanadu in Citizen Kane and Manderlay in Hitchcock’s Rebecca. In the current climate, it seems that this new-version follows on from The Woman in Black, and the gothic house which ‘the woman’ resided within. The Georgian context, though the accurate time period, is also difficult to truly grasp with regards to London itself. The streets of London often feel false whilst many rooms and locations are imitations of the sets within Lean’s film - for example the stuffy and disorganised offices of Jaggers. The sheer scale of the film is only effective when we are within the countryside – whereas within London, it feels smaller and tight.

Success within Schools

Last year, when The Woman in Black was released, students in schools were all whisked away to the cinema at different points. Many were directed to attend a screening over the half-term as Susan Black’s short-book was used as a text in the English GCSE. Everything about Mike Newell’s Great Expectations seems to reek of the same thing. Harry-Potter cast members in Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Robbie Coltrane – alongside the direction of Mike Newell target the teenagers of today. The Robert-Pattinson look of Jeremy Irvine with a love-triangle between Pip, Estella (Holliday Grainger channelling the femininity of Christina Hendricks in Mad Men) and “Bentley Drummle” (Ben Lloyd Hughes) seems to echo the Twilight series. Even Holliday Grainger has starred alongside Robert Pattinson in Bel-Ami and The Bad Mother’s Handbook – is she the ‘go-to’ girl for R-Patz’s love-interest?

It is 200 years since the birth of ‘Charles Dickens’, creating buzz and purpose to produce a version of the story before the year is out. Indeed, the BBC had a version recently starring Gillian Anderson, David Suchet and Ray Winstone. The production has ticked all the relevant boxes to ensure that the film garners success – free advertising through the Dickens relevance; a film which Grandparents and Parents alike will want to take their families – as teachers and schools will flock to maximise the use of a current trend in classic literature… and, who knows, some Twilight and Harry Potter fans may see the poster and go in on the actors credentials alone! But as a film, Jeremy Irvine is weak and wooden as Pip; Helena Bonham Carter – though effective – feels like she is simply phoning-in a character she has played before whilst Ralph Fiennes is criminally under-used. Everyone else, director included, seems to look to David Lean for some type of credible reference point. So why not simply watch the original? I doubt this will go in the history books – but I’m sure it will be in English exercise books for the next five years. At least until The Great Gatsby comes out...