Review: Great Expectations (1998)

I watched Great Expectations the other night. The movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. If you have read the novel, or if you are as far behind the movie times as I am (it was released in 1998), you might want to check it out.

Ever since I heard of this adaptation back in 2008, I have been searching for it everywhere. (As many of you might have guessed from reading this blog), I kind of have an obsession with film adaptations of 19th century literature. Luckily, a friend of mine had a copy of the movie on hand, and I was able to borrow it from him and enjoy it myself.

An alternate version of the cover (from Google Images)

Let’s face it: Dickens is usually depressing. After all the torture he puts his readers through in small victories for each character, and long-winded (but frequently beautiful) descriptions of every atmospheric detail of the setting, he rarely ever offers a hopeful end for his primary characters. He  certainly does not give Pip a happy ending in Great Expectations.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with Great Expectations the novel- although I do acknowledge its genius, I find reading it absolute torture emotionally (which, I also acknowledge as part of the genius). Pip and Estella are never really redeemed, and may only get worse and worse. There are not many characters who readers can connect with that don’t get slapped in the face by life, or Pip, or Estella. By the end of the novel, I always want to yell at them all, especially Pip.

In contrast, this newer adaptation of a similar story, unexpectedly set in a contemporary age, in a location between Florida and New York city, gives its characters much needed humanity, and I would argue, redemption. I did not want to yell at Pip or Estella after finishing the film, yet my heart felt similarly broken to how it feels after reading the novel, and throughout the movie I was also annoyed with Pip quite a large percentage of the time (as it should be).

I did not expect to like this movie very well, but before and after the first hour, I felt continually interested in it. The director and actor choices were really fascinating. I usually never say this, but I may like this movie as much, if not better than, the book, if only because I felt less debilitated after it was over. The movie made many of the same points as Dickens does, but was also more hopeful for the state of humanity. I also loved that Pip became an artist, and the beautiful messages that the artwork was used for throughout the film. It felt rich, complex, and not entirely hopeless, and for that, I was grateful.

Although it is set in America, something that bothered me at first, the storyline and the character motives were still pretty well-drawn. There are many differences between the film and the book, as there always are, yet the characters retained their integrity and had enough similarities to the originals that they were highly recognizable.

Another hesitation I had that was overcome while watching the movie, was that the actors are so well known I was wondering if I would believe them in their roles. However, I was extremely impressed with the acting and I actually think that the difference in setting from the original was a smart choice. Giving the adaptation some spatial distance was effective, as it both gave homage to the old while creating a new piece of art altogether.

My favorite parts of the film surrounded Miss Havisham. The woman who played her as “Miss Dinsmore” (Ann Bancroft) was an amazing actor. The Havisham role was portrayed with incredible and eccentric detail, and her broken down mansion was stunningly recreated in a very Florida way, wedding tables and all. Even though I didn’t know exactly what to expect from her modern doppelganger, I felt that the exploration of her insanity was even better played out in the film than it was in the book. She was not just tortured from being stood up on her wedding day. Dinsmore was shown to have a severe mental disorder and a drinking problem on top of that lasting grief and self-induced heartbreak. She also was shown to have way too much money and time on her hands. There was also a lot of creepy sexual tension and lack of boundaries in the film coming from Miss Dinsmore, which I feel Dickens did not point to quite as much, but made total sense with her character. In the film, Miss Dinsmore wants to destroy both Estella and Pip through creating this alternate (and very weird) space for them all to exist in misery and be motivated by their obsessions to both possess and destroy one another. Her character was just as terrifying and disturbing as Miss Havisham’s was, if not more so.

Miss Dinsmore and Pip drawing

There is also an amazing part of the movie, that had to be my favorite. **Spoiler alert** Pip (Finn) goes to see Estella and profess his love for her, but instead finds Miss Dinsmore (Havisham). There she tells him of Estella’s marriage to another person, all part of her cruel and scheming plan to use Estella as revenge for her past, as a vehicle to break mens’ hearts. He takes her hand and puts it to his chest, saying “do you feel my heart? It’s broken.” This mimics an earlier moment in the film when Miss Havisham says something similar to him to performatively gain his pity, and is his second act of defiance against her in the film.

I loved the portrayal, and was so captivated by Anne Bancroft’s performance that when she was on screen I almost forgot about the other characters.

Parts that were left out included: more tension between Pip’s past and present, and his inability to feel truly comfortable in either, Estella’s second marriage, the final realization about the criminal (won’t give too much away in case you don’t know the story), his relation to Miss Havisham, and Pip’s anger towards him were either left out or diminished.  Pip’s name is changed to Finn (short for Finnegan), which I thought was really interesting considering the tense relationship between Ireland and England (where the novel was written) in the 19th century.

There were also certain things added to the movie version that were not in the original story line, such as Pip as artist (painter), negative consequences of Pip’s actions on his family, and Pip’s isolation from his home community when he comes back to visit. I really liked that Pip was an untrained artist, but that his pictures were still impactful. I guess the drawings and paintings were done for the movie by Italian artist Francisco Clemente, who has become quite famous from it.

Finn's (Clemente's work) depiction of DeNiro's character

Watching this movie was a very weird, and very singular experience for me. It was beautiful, and also felt revelatory in a lot of ways.  I wrote for hours after watching this movie, and wanted to start drawing again (it’s been a few years since I just sat for hours and did nothing but draw- writing has become my primary form of artistic outlet).

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but contrary to some of the bad reviews of the film, I found the adaptation very inspiring. Even though I am enthralled by adaptations, such a positive reaction to one is unusual for me. I would highly recommend it to all adult viewers.

Here is the trailer: 

I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars, for despite all of its problematic elements and loose ends, and the fact that it is set later than 100 years after the original on another continent, it keeps that same Dickensian mood, and the singular and almost dreamlike tension/ obsession that Pip feels throughout the novel would be very difficult to achieve in film.

I would suggest watching it with a glass of water (a theme throughout the movie).

Hope you can get inspired,

Miss E

Ryan Gosling Rant

***Spoiler Alert***

I just visited Portland this past weekend, and saw the movie Drive with Ryan Gosling. The movie theatre we went to was incredible. It was in an old refurbished building that potentially used to be a brothel according to a friend. There were local brews, yummy nosh foods like cheese plates and Thai roasted nuts, and very cozy chairs. I was pretty excited to see a movie in such an awesome location. I would love to go back and see another movie there.

However, Drive was a major disappointment (and that is putting it nicely).

The throwback to the 80’s could have been fun with the synthesized music and hot pink lettering in the credits, but after a short while I had lost patience with the theme of the film, the treatment of women and ethnic minorities, and the lack of actual driving and plot points surrounding the title of the film.

Ryan Gosling with his 80's Jacket in Drive

My biggest problem with Drive was the underlying “White America” message which (perhaps accidentally, perhaps intentionally), permeated the entire film. In addition, not only was it also anti-Semitic at times, but the female characters were shown to be kind of flat and/or weak. The male and female protagonists are both blond Americans of European descent. Many of the most unsavory characters, on the other hand, are ethnic minorities. Hmmmmm….

For example, Ryan Gosling’s character (by the way he is never named, just called “Kid” or “Driver”) is falling in love with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a who is married to a Latino-American man named Standard, who is also in prison during the opening of the film and the subject of violence throughout the film.

Her husband is shown to not only be incapable of performing his “duties” as husband and father, but is also shown to be weak and cowardly in more than one scene. He eventually needs to ask Ryan Gosling for help. He, not surprisingly, also gets shot in the head during the movie.

I will not go into any symbolism here, but I felt that this whole patriarchal battle for Irene and her son Benicio between the White and Mexican man, even thought supposedly a subplot, was pretty obscene. Gosling also didn’t have to even try to “win” Irene in any way. He is shown by the filmmaker as the  more stable option, who Irene also seems to prefer (or at least the option last standing).

He is usually the one controlling violence, not the subject of that violence, for example. He’s somehow shown to be “better than” or exempt from the violence until it finally catches up with him. And even then, he gets a long, drawn out death, and he gets agency in his death.

I didn’t understand why Ryan Gosling’s White male character was glorified and masculinized. Isn’t that formula kind of tired by now?

He’s a good driver- OK, so what?

Hey look- Ryan Gosling in a car. That doesn't happen much in this movie, considering the title.

He is also shown to be emotionally and socially off, violent towards women at times, potentially racist, and doesn’t seem to know how to shop for clothes. Ok, so we’re supporting That White guy again? Yet another example of White Male Exceptionalism.

I was pretty “on guard” after the comment in the movie made by Gosling’s character about a picture of her husband Standard. He asks, “What is he?” and she responds, “In prison.” At that point I was thinking, Ok, that was a gutsy script choice. I wonder what they will do with that moment.

However, instead of delving into any of the background, racial tension, ignorance, or potential racism on the part of Gosling’s character that elicited the comment, it was glossed over in the film as Gosling begins his slow usurpation of the role of Male Protector/Patriarch in the threesome’s familial structure.

The only way I can see the film attempting to take power away from Gosling’s character is in that he is a bit volatile, has little no emotional expression, and dies in the end (but still in a glorified and ambiguous way). Irene also seems a bit upset with him after seeing him crush someone’s skull in an elevator directly after kissing her.

Also, Irene’s character really pissed me off. She had no agency, and was always dependent on the men in the film. Her son was suffering, but he only seemed to get better once he had a White male father figure to hang out with. WTF.

I felt very glad there was alcohol available, because this movie annoyed me on many levels, and I was bummed to see the supposedly “feminist” man Ryan Gosling who has been the subject of the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” meme star in such a clueless and racialized film which propagates glorified White Americans and male violence.

I would not recommend this movie to my readers, ever.

Quite Annoyed,

Miss E

Sense and Sensibility adaptations: Janeite Movie Marathon!

Sense and Sensibility Movie Adaptations all over the place.

Last week I rented the 2007 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from Scarecrow Video, which came with a bonus disc, Miss Austen Regrets. When I checked out Sense and Sensibility, I was blissfully unaware that the bonus disc was included in my rental. Scarecrow Video came through for me yet again. Needless to say, I was very happy when I got home. Two movies for the price of one, amazing. Extra surprise Jane Austen-based movie to feed my addiction, priceless.

I also found a movie with Aishwarya Rai,  advertised on the cover as a Tamil “Kollywood” adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, called I Have Found It. I figured that renting two different adaptations of Sense and Sensibility would make for a fun-filled movie marathon.

I got both of them from the Literature section of Scarecrow’s vast room selection.

Literature room at Scarecrow Video, Seattle

I watched the two BBC movies first , and loved them both.

Let’s start with the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. This same version of Sense and Sensibility was playing every Sunday on Jane Austen Season when I was staying in London, Spring 2007. I have also seen bits and pieces on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in the states, but it was really nice to view the film in its entirety. The whole movie felt right- it felt like being in the novel, with rustic simplicity of the English countryside in the background.

My favorite things about this version:

  1. The Casting. Most of the characters really seemed authentic to the period, and behaved in believable ways, or as their characters might be expected to from what we know of them. It took me a while to warm to some of the secondary characters, but it was not long before I fell in love with them too. In my opinion, the cast in this newer Sense and Sensibility just felt right. For example, Mrs. Dashwood was cast wonderfully. She was just aristocratic enough to be polite in rough situations, and to whether the family crisis with class, while still not quite understanding the financial predicament that her family was really in.
  2. The script. The words in the script were chosen very well, and it seemed enough like the sentiment and tone of the novel without being a recitation of the novel.
  3. Costumes. Marianne and Eleanor were dressed very believably, and so were the other characters. They were not so worried with appearances, especially when they moved to the cottage. Marianne dress was simplistic with a touch of whimsy to match her character’s personality, and Elinor’s sensible and more rustic dress suited her character as well.
  4. Marianne. I was bracing myself to hate this new version of Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne, since I loved the 1995 version with Kate Winslet so much. Although Kate Winslet is one of the best actresses in the world, (and I still love the older version of S&S), I thought this Marianne (Charity Wakefield), knocked her role out of the park as well. She was not only NOT disappointing, but was instead very much like Austen’s Marianne.

Marianne from the 2008 BBC Adaptation

This new Marianne looked and acted as I’d imagined her character when I read S&S for the first time, and it was refreshing to see her vs. Kate Winslet’s version of Marianne. Kate brought more fervor and passion to the role, but Charity Wakefield brought more subtlety, and I think was closer to the correct age of the character when she played her. Her hair also seemed more natural, and Kate Winslet’s blond curly wig in the 1995 version just drives me bonkers when I watch it because it doesn’t even look like real hair.

Three rainy versions of Marianne

  1. The awkwardness. This awkwardness, created by the crass country company and the impropriety of the new connections is downplayed by the social skills of Elinor and her mother; although Marianne handles it somewhat less gracefully, she also confronts the rudeness more directly and changes the behavior of her “attackers.”

What I didn’t like about this adaptation:  honestly, I can’t say much about that. Besides missing Kate and Alan Rickman simply for nostalgia’s sake,  I enjoyed this new adaptation thoroughly. It was one of the first times I’ve really been able to sit and watch an adaptation without critically analyzing it. I think this is because it felt so comfortable to me. As I said, the film makers really did a wonderful job with it, and the music was spot on to convey the tone of the different scenes, none of which were hyperbolic or as dramatic as the older movie version. I was impressed. I would recommend watching this movie with a cup of warm cider, since the scenery gets a bit chilly and wet.

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Now, I Have Found It, although intriguing on the exterior, was a little too far out there for me. I was definitely in the right mood for a long Bollywood-esque movie, which I later learned (thanks M.) is different from Kollywood, and prepared myself to sit for hours on the couch enjoying musical numbers and Janeite references. However, I was pretty confused during the first 30 minutes of the film. It starts with footage of a war, and gun fighting, which of course was never a part of Sense and Sensibility.

I didn’t really understand at all how this movie had been even loosely adapted from the novel until at least 30 minutes in when the family loses their home to their brother and his wife (who seems really nice at first, and then suddenly turns into a greedy evil sister-in-law,  an unrealistic character shift). The person who is responsible for the home is the dying grandfather (not father/ husband of the Dashwood women), so that threw me off.

Once I finally figured out which character was supposed to refer to which, I didn’t feel that the sentiments of those characters were in any way matching. I was also disappointed in Aishwarya Rai’s portrayal of a young and excitable “Marianne.” Her acting was too controlled and had no emotion, the opposite of Marianne. She kind of just acted like a spoilt brat through most of it.

Aishwarya Rai

The cover says that the film is about two sisters who are opposites, (ahem, one with “Sense” and one with “Sensibility”) but it really seemed to be primarily focused on the Colonel Brandon character, and his struggle loving the Marianne character unrequitedly. He is also a war vet (hence the first part of the film), is a raging alcoholic when first introduced on screen, and has lost his leg. It seemed a bizarre representation of his character, and although I appreciated a more imaginative Colonel Brandon, the Marianne character still seemed to keep him grounded and sober, while in the novel he is the steady one who rubs off on her more.

So, not only did the director choose to focus on the man and his plight, making the female story less impactful, but the gender roles between Colonel Brandon and Marianne’s characters were reversed as well.

I could go on and on about this movie, but really, it doesn’t seem worth it. If interested, I found this fairly entertaining and pretty thorough summary of the film. I think that Jane Austen’s works are so fabulous because they are open to various interpretations. However, this one really missed the mark, and I think that it is almost nothing like the novel. In fact, they may have just referred to already popular and already very famous Sense and Sensibility to sell more movies.

If you value your time and sanity, don’t watch this movie. I would not recommend it to anyone, not even to someone with loads of time on their hands, and will never suffer through it again myself.

Until next time,

Miss E

St. Trinian’s

In my last post I talked about doing a movie review soon. They seem to be fun for readers, and they are fun for me too 🙂

So, one of the movies I got from Scarecrow’s England section last week was St. Trinian’s. I didn’t have a hard time picking this one. It looked kind of chintzy, and definitely cheeky. I was attracted to the actor list. I mean, what self-professed Anglophile (aka England-a-holic) could resist a movie with both Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Stephen Fry, and Russell Brand. When I choosing my movie, I sure couldn’t.

Bonus points in my book- it’s also about education. St. Trinian’s is a school, after all. I also found the tagline intriguing, “taking higher education to a new low.” And, since I study gender and the story is about a girls’ school, and there is a cross-dressed character, I figured there would be some potential discussion of gender dynamics within the story.

Movie Cover

I would definitely recommend the movie if you have watched a lot of English films or have lived in England, because it definitely requires a certain knowledge of the culture. For example, one of the most funny parts of the movie was the satire of the English social/ class youth groupings, like chav, posh, and emo.

I really enjoyed it. Of course, the movie was absurd, but that was pretty much the whole point. I mean, when Rupert Everett is playing an eccentric school mistress in drag, that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the movie. I Enjoyed his role in this film though, and Colin Firth’s. It’s always both startling and refreshing to see Firth out of his Darcy-esque roles for me. In St. Trinian’s he plays a hard nosed political reformer who is trying to shut down the school.

Interestingly, he’s also a former lover of Miss Fritton (Everett), and they have some hilarious scenes together in the movie.

I give the movie a 4/5 on the funny scale. I was laughing pretty hard throughout most of it, but a lot of that was because it resonated with my sense of the ridiculous and also with some of the experiences I had in England. I was also in the right mood when I watched it. I was in the mood for irreverence, and this movie is nothing if not irreverent. I thought the story line was a bit weak, and the idea of having a girls’ school where “everyone is accepted” for their quirks is just hard for me to suspend disbelief for, even though I enjoyed it.

Apparently, England and the UK loved it. According to the site for the movie, this was one of the highest grossing indie British films in history. It is based off a classic English film that I need to go rent now.

Watching this movie may inspire you to go drink a bottle of moonshine or rob a bank, but it is damn entertaining.

If you are in the mood to laugh, and enjoy British humor, or if you are really stressed out in school, I would recommend it. Also, check out their site first- it’s pretty informative and should give you a great idea of what the movie is about of if you’d be interested.

Let me know if you do watch it- I’d love to hear what you think!

Miss E