There have been more than a dozen TV and film versions of Charles Dickens' classic novel "Great Expectations," but that doesn't mean the latest one, which stars Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham-Carter, is just more of the same old, same old. Fact is, director Mike Newell's film, which opened Friday, just attests to the enduring popularity of works by the 19th-century author.
Dickens "has arguably the most recognizable voice of anyone writing prose in the English language," says Newell. "He has this ability to be a comedian, a tragedian, an ironist, and write exciting stories with these extraordinarily precise and definite characters who are very eccentric, and nobody talks like them."
Characters like the vicious convict Magwitch, the eccentric Miss Havisham and Pip, the young man with the "Great Expectations." When Pip, an orphan apprenticed to a blacksmith, meets Estella, Miss Havisham's ward, and then is given a fortune by an unknown benefactor, he is thrust into a cruel world of haves vs. have-nots, where money is everything. It's a recurring Dickensian theme.
"The good people in all of books are always in the most horrible danger," says Newell. "Pip, Oliver Twist, I think in every one of the books the good characters, who are often children, are under threat from monsters. The world he wrote about is very harsh, is peopled by these dreadful creatures looking for whom they might consume. The world has been reshaped in a very brutal way; I think that's what's going on in that book. There's a new kind of brutality in the air in the book, and I think that's very contemporary."
Looking for more on-screen Dickens? Here are some top choices.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946) and OLIVER TWIST (1948) Generally regarded as the greatest Dickens film adaptations, both directed by David Lean, with casts featuring Alec Guinness, Anthony Newley, John Mills and Jean Simmons.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) The holiday perennial, with the wonderful Alistair Sim as Scrooge.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1958) Dirk Bogarde stars in Dickens' French Revolution tale.
OLIVER! (1968) Oscar-winning musical adaptation of the classic novel, with Oliver Reed, Mark Lester and Ron Moody.
THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1982) Monumental nine-hour TV miniseries, based on the Tony Award-winning stage adaptation.
SCROOGED (1988) Bill Murray does a modern version of "A Christmas Carol."
BLEAK HOUSE (2005) Outstanding TV miniseries with Gillian Anderson, Carey Mulligan and Charles Dance.