Okay expectations – Mr. Pip review

Mr Pip

By Simon Miraudo
November 4, 2013

Mr. Pip is your typical, middle-of-the-road family film, until, without warning, it very suddenly isn’t. Family films shouldn’t do anything without warning, except delight. Ending with a climactic, seemingly endless sequence of bodily mutilation is right out. But not for writer-director Andrew Adamson, who leaves the world of Shrek and Narnia behind for this emotionally brutal adaptation of Lloyd Jones’ 2006 novel of the same name. Set in the Pacific Islands during a violent civil war, it would have been false to dance around the grotesque viciousness the island’s inhabitants were subjected to by both soldiers and rebels alike. Yet the shift in tone from ‘charming, slightly questionable movie about a white man educating wide-eyed locals with a copy of Great Expectations‘ to ‘Apocalypse Now‘ is extreme. I hate to be that guy, but won’t somebody think of the children?

Hugh Laurie stars as Mr. Watts, a learned literature buff who cares for his ailing wife on the abandoned island of Bougainville. Young Matilda (newcomer Xzannijah) and her mother Dolores (real-life mom Healesville Joel), like the other residents, live a simple, uncomplicated life. That is, until Mr. Watts – newly installed as teacher for the dozen or so remaining youngsters – introduces them to the works of Charles Dickens. Matilda is instantly swept away by the story of Pip, and his whirlwind ascent to the high-life in London. Dolores, however, is concerned Dickens is taking the place of the Good Book, wherein real, significant life lessons are found. As Mr. Watts’ class grows, eventually brimming with more and more adults eager to hear where Pip will head next, she discovers she’s alone in her thinking.

Mr Pip

Mr. Pip is pleasant enough, I suppose. It really only comes alive when Adamson – a talented visual stylist – literally transports Matilda into the world of Great Expectations, and vice versa; the streets of London built upon the sands of a beach, surrounded by palm trees. Elsewhere, it’s a bland affair, resting largely on the shoulders of the charming though nonetheless amateur lead actress Xzannijah. Laurie keeps the mugging to a minimum, imbuing his Mr. Watts with a murky, mournful past. There are cute moments, and a pro-literature message that warrants reiteration (particularly as anti-intellectualism continues to reign in even developed countries). But then the ending arrives – in all its horrific glory – and we’re left wondering just who exactly this feature is for. Too scary and violent for the little ones, and too plain and lifeless for the adults. Besides highlighting a little-seen people on the screen, Mr. Pip really offers little. It will eventually find a home in classrooms, much like Great Expectations before it. However, I don’t expect it to invigorate or inspire kids as Mr. Dickens’ work regularly does.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews.

Mr. Pip arrives in Australian cinemas November 7, 2013.

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