Kiwi director Andrew Adamson has a gift for the fantastical, what with the huge success of the Shrek and Narnia films. With Mr. Pip, he shows sensitivity for epic, emotional drama too. Faithfully adapting the moving Lloyd Jones award-winning novel Mister Pip, this is a fairly earnest retelling of one girl’s life-changing encounter with a mysterious teacher, who reads Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations to her otherwise educationally barren classroom in late-80s, war-torn Bougainville.
One of the biggest challenges must have been how to tell the story of the man telling a story without him having to constantly tell the story. Adamson cleverly gets around this by illustrating Matilda’s thoughts with her own filtered ideal of the Dickensian world. Cue striking images of an island paradise transformed into a tropical version of London, Matilda and Pip in colourful finery. It’s exactly what you’d imagine her version of the story would be.
It’s also a pleasure to see Papua New Guinea on the big screen, and Adamson, who spent his teenaged years there, offers a loving ode to its beauty and culture, using the stunning setting, and all its delightful details – crabs, ants, shimmering water – to great effect. But ultimately the performances steal the show. Hugh Laurie as the children’s teacher Mr Watts is both hauntingly sad and inspiring, and the captivating Xzannjah as Matilda is a natural. My only criticism is that it could’ve benefited from a little more levity. However, Adamson has cut some of the bleaker scenes, delivering a film that still delivers a punch to the gut.
‘Mr. Pip’ Movie Times