Saturday, November 19, 2011

And Tiny Tim Doesn't Say "God Bless Us Everyone"

Charles Dickens may be rolling over in his grave right about now! In an article in today's Telegraph, Martin Chilton reports that Great Expectations director, Mike Newell, has come up with a new ending for the film. Whaaaaaaaaaaat?!

"The new film, directed by Mike Newell and starring Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch, is likely to generate the most Victorian hot air.
It cranked up yesterday when screenwriter David Nicholls said the scenes in which Pip meets Miss Haversham will be “a bit like going to see Hannibal Lector”. The film will be approached "like a thriller".
The heartbreaker Estelle will be a "femme fatale" and, most contentiously, Nicholls revealed that he has “come up with an ending that isn’t in the book".
A new ending for Great Expectations. What chutzpah. What a way to give traditionalists the pip.
But hang on. Dickens himself famously wrote different endings for his 1861 masterpiece. The first finale, sadly more appealing to gritty pessimists like myself, was bleak and unforgiving. Estelle ends up leading a "most unhappy life" having been treated "with great cruelty by two husbands".
Pip meets her by chance and takes satisfaction in seeing how she has suffered.
Dickens thought his public would not like such a dark conclusion and re-wrote the book to have the pair meet in a "tranquil light" in which Pip saw "no shadow of another parting from her."
Now Nichollls - as Bernard Shaw once did - wants yet another ending. Nicholls said of the new ending: "Dickens came up with two endings - one which is incredibly bleak and one which is unrealistically romantic and sentimental. Neither are quite satisfactory and we've come up with an ending that isn't in the book - and is somewhere in between. It draws on events in the book but takes them in a slightly different direction, but is in no way sacrilegious."
His use of the words "not quite satisfactory" about Dickens certainly jars but then I guess the filmmakers know they also face the small matter of matching up to David Lean's superb 1946 film adaptation.
One thing's for sure. By promising a thrilling new ending, Nicholls has set very high expectations for the film."
Frankly, I'm dumbfounded. Tampering with a truly Great novel, an absolute classic like Great Expectations, seems like arrogance and sacrilege! I know he's given us some great films like Enchanted April, Four Weddings and a Funeral and the Harry Potter Goblets movie but also some clunkers like Love in the Time of Cholera.
As Chilton points out, Dickens himself did play with alternate endings. Still, Dickens played with - as writers do - but ultimately ended up with HIS ending. One can't help but wonder what Newell will do with On Chesil Beach, which he's slated to begin next summer, or, if given the chance, what he might do with A Christmas Carol!

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