Ethan Hawke opens with some insipid, uninspired notes of narration. “I am not going to tell the story the way it happened,” his soulless ideas spring from the screen as a camera pans around a boy in a shallow sea. Where Great Expectations and Alfonso Cuarón fail is in the modernisation of the Charles Dickens classic. But modernity is not something to cower away from. Where Great Expectations offers a new era and generation of interest for the text, it fails to capture what few notes made it settle so well. It is nowhere close to the David Lean feature before it, and Cuarón must, surely, know that.
Orphans, mysterious egalitarians and the life of the gentlemanly way are all founded in Great Expectations. It is the right period for this adaptation to release. When the period genre was finding its footing, the stuffy performances that followed seemed at home rather than out of place. Proper English and its spoken significance find their way through this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel from David Lean. His work on Brief Encounter the year before had opened him up to the highs and lows of fleeting romance, and it does not feel all that out of place here, in this adaptation starring John Mills.