Great Expectations Realised

Films with Roger Childs

 

 You cannot pretend to read a book; your eyes give you away. Mr Watts (Mr Pip)

A classic book…a great film

Matilda There are plenty of people who feel that Eleanor Catton with her magnum opus The Luminaries should have been our third Booker Prize winner. Number two had to be Lloyd Jones with his highly original and superbly written Mister Pip. Sadly, the favourite didn’t win in 2007, however, it has been made into a very good film.

Many of you will have read this excellent book which takes its name from a key character in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations.

An idyllic tropical setting during a grim period

The movie is set mainly in Bougainville, a copper rich island which is a valuable outpost of Papua New Guinea. Most of the action takes place during a civil war when the Port Moresby government struggled to put down a rebellion on the island.

Mr Pip on the beach Englishman Mr Watts, who has a Melanesian partner, steps into the vacant role of village teacher.  Nicknamed “Pop-Eye” because of his wide eyes, he bases all his tuition on the famous Dickens book and enthrals the students and ultimately their parents. The latter eventually become an integral part of the teaching process.

The main character of the story is actually young teenager, Matilda, who becomes obsessed with Great Expectations and lives out many of the lessons in her imagination. She writes the name of Dickens’s main character Mr Pip in the sand.

Tragically the idyllic fishing village where they live is not beyond the reach of government troops and there is no happy ending. Arriving in the settlement, the soldiers see the name MR PIP  in the sand and the military commander is convinced the man is a rebel agent being hidden by the villagers.

Getting the book to the screen

 On finishing the book, many readers felt that Mister Pip would make a great film. But the transfer from written word to silver screen has not been easy.

 Andrew Adamson’s first version was panned by critics at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012 so it was back to the drawing board.

The version released this year has been judiciously edited and is shorter. The result is a quality movie about what the director calls a story about the power of story.

 Adamson spent some of his early life in Papua New Guinea and the authenticity of the film is enhanced by knowing that it has been shot in Bougainville by a man who understands its history and culture.

A picturesque setting and quality acting

 The beautiful coastal landscapes where most of the action takes place contrast starkly with the scenes of the derelict opencast copper mine which was a key element in the origins of the civil war.

The cinematography is outstanding and matches the changing moods of the story

  • idyllic white sand beaches
  • lush, tropical forest
  • the derelict classroom which Watts brings alive
  • imaginative shots of insects, birds and vegetation
  • dramatic close-ups of villagers and soldiers.

Hugh Lawrie teacherHugh Laurie is outstanding as Watts, a sad man, whose life is enlivened by his transformation into an inspiring teacher. He uses his quirky acting style to perfection. The untrained Melanesian villagers are very convincing in their home setting and Xzannjah is a revelation as Matilda.

She portrays a teenager who rapidly comes of age in the Bougainville conflict and splendidly embodies the triumph of the human spirit, despite the tragic events that occur around her. Her fantasies as Estella from Great Expectations, although a little contrived at times, are depicted with flair and colour.

Doing justice to a great book

 Lloyd Jones’s masterpiece deserved a quality translation to the screen. Adamson has finally achieved this. The movie is faithful to the original story and brings out the range of elements and emotions that are revealed in Mister Pip

  • innocence and humour
  • drama and tension
  • fear and extreme violence
  • imagination and hope.

There are minor quibbles: the music is sometimes overwrought, notably in some landscape sequences and unaccountably the director called his film of Mister Pip, Mr Pip!

Nevertheless, Andrew Adamson has produced a very convincing portrayal of an evocative story of triumph and tragedy which is set against actual events in a little known part of the South Pacific.

 

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