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 is one of many adaptations of Charles Dickens' classic novel about money and love and how one can't buy you the other. There's some violence in the movie, as characters die or are cruel and harsh with each other, and the language includes mostly insults like "cowardly," "stupid," and "common." This isn't a feel-good story, so be prepared to discuss the themes with kids unfamiliar with Dickens' books.
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What's the story?
In this adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic novel GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) plays Pip, a young man whose fate is forever changed by two events from his childhood: helping to feed and unshackle a fugitive criminal, Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes), and meeting a wealthy spinster, Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), who expects him to befriend her beautiful but aloof young ward, Estella (Holliday Grainger). Brought up by his abusive older sister (Sally Hawkins) and her warm-hearted blacksmith husband (Jason Flemyng) in the marshes of Kent, Pip can't get the icy Estella out of his head or heart, even when Miss Havisham moves them to London. When he mysteriously inherits a fortune, he too moves to London in order to prove himself a gentleman worthy of Estella's love.
Is it any good?
More tweens and teens should consider this satisfying adaptation as an introduction to Dickens beyond A Christmas Carol. Director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) takes his turn adapting one of English literature's most often retold tales of mystery, social climbing, and the ways money and desire can either enrich or corrupt the soul. Irvine, with his earnest face and strong arms is as believable as a blacksmith as he is a gentleman. He plays the coming-of-age Pip with an initial sweetness that makes the bitter, sad twists of the story that much more horrifying. Pip is so besotted with Estella (Grainger, lovely and icy just as Estella is meant to be played), he can't see how good and attentive a woman Biddy (Jessie Cave) is, or how the life of an honest tradesman should not be so easily dismissed.
Newell and screenwriter David Nicholls don't stick page for page to Dickens' story, and the script is tighter, more streamlined, and in some ways a relief (for film audiences) over the beloved original. Bonham Carter and Fiennes are fabulous as the perpetually bitter Miss Havisham and the tragic thief Magwitch, as are Hawkins and Flemyng as Pip's cruel sister and his surprisingly warm brother-in-law. Dickens may not paint love with a swoony, bantering brush like Jane Austen, but his themes are just as universal and substantial.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Charles Dickens' works continue to speak to people. How do class differences affect us in today's culture? Is money a one-way ticket to happiness? Directed by Mike Newell, the movie features attractive young actors Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger as well as esteemed veterans Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter.
Does seeing the film make you curious about the book? Would you like to see other adaptations of the story?
Do you consider this a tragedy? What are your thoughts on Pip and Estella? Is theirs a love story or not?
Dickens considered Great Expectations his best work. Do you agree?
- In theaters: November 8, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: April 15, 2014
- Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Jeremy Irvine, Ralph Fiennes
- Director: Mike Newell
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 128 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence including disturbing images
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