A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Great Expectations (1998) is one of many retellings of the classic Dickens' novel, with this one set in modern times on the Gulf Coast. This version greatly simplifies the plot, mostly focusing on the twisted romance between Estella and Pip (called Finn in this version) and cutting out a lot of the details of Pip's difficult journey to adulthood. This is a very mature version best for older teens and up, so expect a lot of swearing ("f--k" and "s--t" are sprinkled liberally throughout) and some violence (a character is stabbed and dies from his wounds). There's also a focus on sex and the growing sexual tension between Estella and Finn that starts with a French kiss between tweens. As teens they share one sexually charged scene that shows a shot up Estella's dress to her underwear, and as adults Finn draws Estella naked (she poses first in underwear, then fully naked with bare buttocks shown), and one sex scene shows Estella naked (bare breasts and buttocks). There's also some drinking and a lot of smoking. The themes of learning the futility of fame and fortune if you don't have love or family, which are strongly emphasized in the novel, are mostly overshadowed by Finn's consuming love for Estella in this version.
What's the story?
Finnegan Bell, an orphan, grows up poor on the Gulf Coast, raised by his indifferent sister Maggie and her compassionate husband, Joe (Chris Cooper). Two events shape the future of this sensitive, budding artist: when an escaped convict, Lustig (Robert DeNiro) forces Finn to help him hide from the police, and when the crossed-in-love Ms. Dinsmoor (Ann Bancroft) invites him to spend time with her adopted daughter, Estella. As Finn (Ethan Hawke) grows, his fascination with and love for Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow) blooms, with the encouragement of Ms. Dinsmoor, even as Estella remains aloof. But when Finn is given the chance to show his art at a New York gallery by an unknown benefactor, and he finds himself awash in fame and fortune, he sees his chance to finally win over Estella.
Is it any good?
Visually stunning and full of intense scenes and memorable characters, this retelling of the Dickens' classic has a lot of style but is lacking a lot of the substance of the source material. Ann Bancroft's Ms. Dinsmoor, with garish '60s flair, makes for a wonderfully sinister Miss Havisham, and Chris Cooper's Joe, now a struggling fisherman, is sweetly convincing as the affable uncle. But Finn and Estella feel like shells of characters, and it's hard to connect with them. The convict (Lustig in this version) also gets frustratingly little screen time. You want more of Finn's journey and Lustig's behind-the-scene's shaping of it and less pinning for Estella.
But this is a very watchable version. The scenes are wonderfully set -- you feel the stifling humidity of the coast, the exciting snap of New York City -- and the side characters wonderfully portrayed. Watch this version for a visual feast, but pick up a copy of the novel for a meatier dive into the morals and mores of Dickens.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the sexual content in Great Expectations. Why do you think there's so much emphasis on sex? Does it add to the plot?
Why do you think there's so much swearing in the film? Is it appropriate for the characters? Does it add to the plot?
Do you like this version of Great Expectations? How faithful is it to the book? How does it differ?
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