It’s hard to understand how things could’ve gone so wrong with this latest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic cautionary tale of class mobility. For one thing, director Mike Newell is wise to have eschewed the genteel trappings of the many TV incarnations in favor of a grubby, even brutal naturalism more akin to Roman Polanski’s 2005 version of “Oliver Twist” or Andrea Arnold’s more radical take on Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.” What’s more, Newell scores at least two casting coups by enlisting Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, two very different figures who have an equally decisive effect on the development of our young hero Pip, a blacksmith’s apprentice who is mysteriously given a chance to become a proper gentleman in 19th-century London. Yet a weak central performance by “War Horse”’s Jeremy Irvine and an inelegantly condensed screenplay by David Nicholls are enough to lend a stiff, stultifying air to the whole proceedings. Though too handsomely mounted and well-played to rate as a total disappointment, it inevitably seems superfluous when stacked next to David Lean’s still-stately 1946 adaptation or Alfonso Cuaron’s rather more playful 1998 update. Criticwire grade: C+ [Jason Anderson]
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