October 16, 2013

They’ve shut down the water, they’ve stolen our teacher

Mr Pip (Andrew Adamson, 2012). Great acting, terrific locations, lovely shooting (thanks John Toon), interesting themes (and you Lloyd Jones) – it’s hard to recognise the film that so underwhelmed them in Toronto a year ago (see here and here) before it was apparently tightened up and made clearer. As in the Jones novel, Dickens’ Great Expectations is a totem but there’s more to it than simply the civilising value of education contrasted with a barbaric civil war or one girl’s personal development. This is also about whether the western novel can co-exist with other systems of knowledge, Christian and pre-Christian: note that Mr Watts’ first act as a teacher of local children and the last white man in the wild is to wipe a prayer from the blackboard but he goes on to join the village’s most visible and committed Christian in making a sacrifice that changes the story. It may be fair to say that the war is underplayed or less seen than heard (machete sound effects) but the most risky idea – Melanesian actors in Victorian costumes re-enacting Great Expectations in (among other places) a tropical Oamaru ­– comes off, believe it or not. You can pack nearly all of your post-colonial themes into that one bold image. The great acting we mentioned is by Hugh Laurie and teenage newcomer Xzannjah, largely. Also, in a movie that wants you to read, did you notice the Lloyd Jones product placement? (A copy of Choo Woo in a Queensland school library).