According to IMDb, there are over three hundred film or TV titles adapted from or inspired by the work of Charles Dickens. And Mike Newell's adaptation of Great Expectation is one the best of them.
The biggest challenge facing a writer or director adapting Dickens's work, as Newell admitted to audiences at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, is the sheer length of the novels. Dickens mostly wrote serial novels (published in installments), and so there was an economic incentive to keep the story going (and customers buying) for as long as possible.
Many TV adaptations—Nicholas Nickleby, Bleak House, Little Dorrit—have successfully married Dickens's plots with the longer, installment-based miniseries format. But feature films must condense—and that means finding and sticking close to the core of the story.
Newell and screenwriter David Nicholls (who also adapted Hardy's Tess of the D'urbervilles for TV) have found that core masterfully. In adapting Great Expectations, they get rid of a few subplots (like a murder mystery) and use flashbacks judiciously, instead filling in backstory with dialogue.
Great Expectations was one of my five favorite films of 2012, so I was a little surprised that it languished on the shelf for over a year in between its festival debut and its American release. There might be a few reasons for that. While we tend to be more comfortable with corrupt characters who just happen to be rich, Dickens is concerned with the corrupting power that is inherent in money, and with how that power is woven into both individual and corporate structures.
Also, the novel has long been a staple of high school reading lists, so I suppose some viewers have residual ...1
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