In a slightly-too-small room in London’s Savoy Hotel, Director Mike Newell addresses us on his new movie, Great expectations which is the latest Hollywood version of the Charles Dickens novel. We got to sit down with the British Director to discuss his new movie, Great Expectations which is our in UK cinemas now.
If you’ve missed the rest of our coverage, check it out here but before you do, scroll down and read the interview with the main man himself below.
“It’s about script and the story. I wanted desperately not to live in a hotel room in Los Angeles any more but I also kind of wanted to re-learn that one central thing – that you actually can’t work without a decent script.”
This sort of open, candid response is rare from a director, particularly when it involves talking about their own failings, but for Newell, publicly exorcising the demons of Prince of Persia was the whole impetus for making Great Expectations.
“I’d had $250 million to make Prince of Persia and it’s not and never will be good enough and it’s because we never got the script right. I read this thing; it was based on a novel which I had loved ever since being an undergraduate. It was a really good script and it was do-able.”
Of course, with so many previous adaptations, newell had to find his own take on the material. Many have described this as a ‘dark’ version, Newell doesn’t agree, “I didn’t set out to make a dark or a light film. To some extent that’s a clichéd term that doesn’t quite mean enough anymore.” Once more his thoughts turn back to a previous film,
“I was walking out of David Yates’ Harry Potter [The Order of The Phoenix] that immediately followed mine and this big bloke was shouting to his family across the top of my head. And he shouted, “well they said the last was dark but that was rubbish and this is really dark and really good!”
“So what I felt to start with was I didn’t want to do what Alfonso had done and I think if he were going to do it again he might not have done it that way. I bumped into him and he asked what I was doing and I said I was doing a version [of Great Expectations] and he went like that [makes a crucifix with his fingers] “woah!” That’s not to say it’s not a good movie it is a good movie.
“I wanted it to be very hot. I wanted it to be sexually hot. I wanted them to desire one another, I wanted it to be erotic in their heads, I couldn’t do anything about that on the screen that would’ve been unthinkable. You can’t do that, it just shocks people too much, but I did want people to be made aware that there was lust in this story, it wasn’t just love. There was love but there was strong lust as well.”
“I wanted it to be about money and about how money screws things up, how money deludes people because that seemed to me that it’s very much in our times right now. I was really interested in the way that both the novel, but also in David’s brilliant script, it’s about abused children as well. The way that these children get abused is that the adults have in their turn been horribly damaged and they have passed that damage on and the danger is that it passes on and on and on and you never get free of it.”
Key to this take on the material was finding a believable Pip, and in Jeremy Irvine, Newell had someone who was ideal, “I loved the way he looked. Because he was dark and a lot of the kind of traditional Dickens heroes are blonde. So I liked his looks and I could believe him as a country boy he was very simple he wasn’t a Clever Dick.
“I’m a Clever Dick, and I’m a Clever Dick enough for a whole cast of actors but he was simple and he was believable as a blacksmith and he knits his brows he’s too serious for his own good and Pip’s too serious for his own good as well and what he did was he absolutely bit on this central thing in the character that Pip is prepared to throw away, to betray all the people who are best for him. All the people who are kindest and most generous and most loving towards him he betrays. And he absolutely got that. He knew all about that and that was a very big thing in casting him.”
With everything in place it all seemed like plain sailing, but things became complicated when Newell became aware that the BBC, who had put up a large portion of the budget for the film, were also working on a TV adaptation of the book, “Well that wasn’t the best day of our lives because it came as a shock; we didn’t know that it was planned. We thought that we were the only one in the race and we were financed in considerable part by BBC Films and then what we thought was, “they’ll go away. When they’re hearing that we’ll do it they’ll go away.” But obviously they were thinking the same thing that we would go away. Neither of us did and the finally, desperately, we hoped that the whole of the BBC show would in some way act as a kind of trailer for the movie and then we stopped because it was just too painful!”
“I knew who they’d cast – I made very sure that I found out about that – I went to see some of their locations so that I knew what it would look like so that I could make mine different. I didn’t read it because it would have been a dodgy thing to get hold of their script and I watched it like a hawk when it went out. I watched all of it and learned lessons.”
Although it had some bearing on the locations Newell chose, and although he saw the finished product while he was only a few weeks into the edit, Newell is adamant that this version had little effect on his own, “The editor did not see it. The editor said,
“I’m not going to watch it,” and I said, “ok but I have to.” The editor was very powerful and very influential with me and you’d have to prove to me that there was an overlap, I can’t really see it.”
“As I say I went to see their locations and I was fascinated by one which I think only appeared for a single shot on the TV (adaptation) which was a causeway across a kind of lagoon on the east coast which dried out at low tide and is a lovely location and I thought that we might simply steal it from them. But I saw the shot and I saw the location and I thought, “oh no they wouldn’t be so great actually.”
“In the end was not the struggle, the struggle was with money. Of course a lot of investors said, “we’re not putting money in that it’s going out on television.” And so that did have an effect and we had to do an enormously difficult set of tricks to get it for the budget. For instance we had hoped to put the last scene where Pip and Estella bump into one another again in Cairo because in the novel Herbet goes off to the East and he trades in silks and elephants tusks, stuff like that. So we were going to go first to Cairo, second we were going to go to Malta working our way West you’ll notice, then we were going to go to Morocco, then we thought maybe we might go to Spain and then we wound up in a muddy field in Berkshire because we didn’t have the money. ”
“I don’t know about Morocco, Morocco’s a curious country, I know it very well; Cairo it would have been a factor, in the end, we wouldn’t have gone to Cairo, it would have been dangerous, it would have affected our insurance I expect. The most realistic of the choices were malta and Essaouira in Morocco. I think we would have been fine in Morocco, because Morocco had liked the show being there for Prince of Persia, we did a huge amount of Prince of Persia there, so I think we would have been ok.”