Great Expectations (1998 film)

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Great Expectations
Great expectations poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlfonso Cuarón
Produced byArt Linson
John Linson
Screenplay byMitch Glazer[1]
Based onGreat Expectations
by Charles Dickens
Narrated byEthan Hawke
Music byPatrick Doyle
Ron Wasserman
CinematographyEmmanuel Lubezki
Edited bySteven Weisberg
Art Linson Productions
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • January 30, 1998 (1998-01-30)
Running time
111 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$25 million[3]
Box office$55.5 million[4]

Great Expectations is a 1998 American romantic drama film. A contemporary film adaptation of Charles Dickens’s 1861 novel of the same name, co-written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hank Azaria, Robert De Niro, Anne Bancroft and Chris Cooper. It is known for having moved the setting of the original novel from 1812-1827 London to 1990s New York. The film is an abridged modernization of Dickens's 1861 novel, with the hero's name having been changed from Pip to Finn, and the characters of Miss Havisham having been renamed Nora Dinsmoor and Abel Magwitch being renamed to Arthur Lustig. The film received mixed reviews.


Ten-year-old Finnegan "Finn" Bell, an orphan being raised by his elder sister Maggie and her boyfriend Joe, is playing on a beach in the Gulf Coast when an escaped convict overpowers him. Finn must promise to bring back food, medicine and bolt cutters to get the iron shackles off his leg. Finn complies, but is taken hostage and the convict tries to escape to Mexico but the police seize his small boat. The convict hides on a buoy and the police tow Finn back to land. The next day, Finn sees on the news that the convict was a mobster named Arthur Lustig who had escaped from death row, but has now been recaptured.

Joe is called to do gardening work at "Paradiso Perduto" ("Lost Paradise" in Italian), the mansion of the richest woman in Florida, Nora Dinsmoor. Ms. Dinsmoor has lived as a recluse since she was left at the altar by her fiancé many years before. Finn accompanies Joe and encounters Dinsmoor's young niece, the beautiful Estella. Dinsmoor invites Finn to come back and play with Estella. On Finn's first visit Estella behaves haughtily, but her aunt forces her into sitting for an impromptu portrait by Finn. While he draws, Ms. Dinsmoor warns Finn that he will fall in love with Estella and have his heart broken.

Several years pass. Maggie runs away from home and Joe raises Finn alone. Finn goes to Paradiso Perduto every Saturday and develops into a talented painter. Although Estella is at times flirtatious, even attempting to seduce Finn at one point, she leaves to study abroad in Europe without telling him. Heartbroken, Finn gives up painting and his visits to Paradiso Perduto.

Seven years later, a lawyer comes to Finn and tells him that a gallery owner in New York City is interested in showing his work. Finn is perplexed but agrees to go. Once he arrives he encounters Estella in the park, whom Ms. Dinsmoor had mentioned was also in New York. Estella is in a relationship with a wealthy businessman, Walter. She resumes her flirtatious behavior towards Finn, posing nude in his apartment and arousing the jealousy of Walter.

Eventually Finn, frustrated by Estella's evasiveness, lures her away from Walter and the two make love. She tells him that she is going away briefly to visit her aunt, but she will be back to attend the opening of Finn's show. However, on the night of the opening Estella fails to materialize. Instead, Uncle Joe shows up and inadvertently embarrasses Finn with his crudeness. Finn then goes to Estella's abode in New York, hoping to find her there, but instead he finds Ms. Dinsmoor, who reveals that she came to New York to attend Estella's wedding to Walter. When Finn becomes upset at the news, she tells him that Estella was using him all along to make Walter jealous and convince him to marry her. When she realizes how seriously she has upset him, she grows remorseful and apologizes for her manipulation, but it is too late.

Finn returns to his studio to find a strange bearded man wanting to see him: It is none other than Arthur Lustig. Finn is at first incredulous, but then he becomes uncomfortable with the old man's presence and implies that he should leave. As Lustig is walking out the door, his off-hand comments make Finn aware that he, and not the wealthy Ms. Dinsmoor, has in fact been Finn's benefactor during Finn's entire time in New York. Finn thus accompanies Lustig to the subway station.

While they are waiting for a train, Lustig sees three unsavory acquaintances on the opposite platform. Finn and Lustig outmaneuver them and get on a train. They think they are safe, but as the train is in motion one of the two men comes through the car and brutally stabs Lustig in the side. As Lustig bleeds to death in Finn's arms, he reveals that he has been Finn's benefactor in return for the kindness Finn showed him as a child.

Devastated, Finn detaches himself from everything and goes to Paris to study art. He becomes successful in his own right, and eventually returns to Florida to visit his Uncle Joe. Ms. Dinsmoor has since died, but he decides to visit her house anyway. As he is sitting in the garden, he thinks he sees the apparition of Estella as a child. He follows the little girl through to the back dock where he finds the child's mother, who turns out to be Estella, who has since divorced. She admits that she has often thought of him, and asks for his forgiveness for her past cruelty. Finn forgives her and they hold hands looking out over the sea.


Locations used[edit]

  • Ca' d'Zan, an historic residence in Sarasota, Florida, was used for the exterior and parts of the interior of Paradiso Perduto. The mansion was built in 1924 by Mable and John Ringling. The façade was dressed to appear decrepit and overgrown,[5] a gate was added to the avenue approaching the front, and the interior ballroom and loggia facing the waterfront terrace were also dressed for the dancing scenes.[6][7]
  • Bradenton, Florida - Cortez Road and Sarasota Bay - was used for the approach and gardens of Paradiso Perduto.
  • Hempstead House on Long Island, NY was used for the interior fountain court of Paradiso Perduto.
  • The Harry F. Sinclair House at East 79th St. and 5th Avenue in Manhattan acted as the exterior for Ms. Dinsmoor's New York mansion.


Director Alfonso Cuarón was a big fan of Ethan Hawke's work in Before Sunrise (1995) and strongly wanted him to play the lead. Hawke was initially not interested - he felt that the themes of class present in the story would be better served in an American context if the main character was Latino or African American. However, after meeting with Cuarón and being impressed with the director's enthusiasm for the project, Hawke agreed.[8]

The voiceovers were not in the original screenplay. Once the film was edited together, producer Art Linson felt voiceover was needed to maintain connective tissue in the hyperstylized world Cuaron had created. Previously working with screenwriter David Mamet on The Edge, Linson hired him to write the voiceovers. Mamet was not credited in the final film.[9]

The name of Hawke's character was undecided for a while, with the original novel's Pip sounding unpalatable given this version's modern day setting. The production later settled on Finnegan, or Finn, the name of Hawke's dog.[9]

Alfonso Cuarón has stated that directing the film was a "horrible experience" and a film he "shouldn't have done" and made it "for the wrong reasons." Cuarón stated that he first passed on directing the script multiple times, but reconsidered when he needed money and had a chance to work with some of the names attached to the project.[10]


The song "Siren" was written for this film by Tori Amos. The soundtrack also includes songs by popular artists such as Pulp, Scott Weiland, Iggy Pop, Chris Cornell and The Verve Pipe. Duncan Sheik's contribution, the song "Wishful Thinking", was released as a single from the soundtrack and Poe's "Today" was released as a promo. The film's score was written by Scottish composer Patrick Doyle, a veteran of many literary adaptations and frequent collaborator of Kenneth Branagh, and featured classical guitarist John Williams.

Several variations of the song Bésame Mucho are heard throughout the film. The primary recording, however, and the version released on the soundtrack, is performed by Cesaria Evora.

The soundtrack also featured the breakthrough single "Life in Mono", which became a major hit, charting on the Billboard Hot 100.

The score track "Kissing in the Rain" was sampled in the song "RoboCop" on Kanye West's 2008 album, 808s & Heartbreak.

  1. Finn (Intro) - Instrumental Vocalization by Tori Amos
  2. Siren - Performed by Tori Amos
  3. Life in Mono - Performed by Mono
  4. Sunshower - Performed by Chris Cornell
  5. Resignation - Performed by Reef
  6. Like a Friend - Performed by Pulp
  7. Wishful Thinking - Performed by Duncan Sheik
  8. Today - Performed by Poe
  9. Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down - Performed by Scott Weiland
  10. Her Ornament - Performed by the Verve Pipe
  11. Walk This Earth Alone - Performed by Lauren Christy
  12. Breakable - Performed by Fisher
  13. Success - Performed by Iggy Pop
  14. Slave - Performed by David Garza
  15. Uncle John's Band - Performed by the Grateful Dead
  16. Besame Mucho - Performed by Cesária Évora


The screenplay for this film was written by Mitch Glazer, loosely based on Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations.[11] The film itself was then novelized by Deborah Chiel, also under the title Great Expectations.[12]

Critical reception[edit]

Great Expectations received mixed or average reviews. Based on 24 critic reviews from mainstream publication, Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 55 out of 100, based on reviews from 24 critics.[13] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 37% based on 35 reviews.[14]

Film critic Roger Ebert, giving it three stars out of four, wrote: "Great Expectations begins as a great movie (I was spellbound by the first 30 minutes), but ends as only a good one, and I think that's because the screenplay, by Mitch Glazer, too closely follows the romantic line."[11]

Ethan Hawke commented on the film's release that it had the bad fortune to overlap with the release of Titanic, which premiered in theatres six weeks before Great Expectations. He stated that "nobody gave a shit about anything but Titanic for about 9 months after...particularly another romance."[8]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale.[15]

Artwork and portraits used in the film[edit]

All of Finn's artwork and portraits of the main characters in the film were done by Francesco Clemente, an Italian painter. The actors sat for him in private. A gallery of some of the paintings is available for viewing at Fox's website devoted to the film.


  1. ^ "Wettbewerb/In Competition". Moving Pictures, Berlinale Extra. Berlin. 11–22 February 1998. p. 20.
  2. ^ "GREAT EXPECTATIONS (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 1998-01-19. Retrieved 2012-12-02.
  3. ^ PERSALL, STEVE. "Fake Expectations", St. Petersburg Times, August 19, 1996
  4. ^ "Great Expectations (1998) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-03-20.
  5. ^ Though, at that time, the mansion was decrepit and overgrown, the result of years of neglect; it spurred efforts to renovate and restore the mansion to its historic glory.
  6. ^ "History of Ca' d'Zan". Retrieved 2018-01-09.
  7. ^ Katie Hendrick (2017-03-01). "Cà d'Zan: A Monumental Love Story". Flamingo magazine. Retrieved 2018-01-09.
  8. ^ a b GQ (2018-08-06). Ethan Hawke Breaks Down His Most Iconic Roles. Retrieved 2018-08-08.
  9. ^ a b Linson, Art (2002). What Just Happened?. Bloomsbury Pub Plc USA. ISBN 1-58234-240-7.
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b "Great Expectations Reviews". 1998-01-30. Retrieved 2013-03-18.
  12. ^ Dickens, Charles; Chiel, Deborah (November 1997). Great Expectations book page. ISBN 0312963033.
  13. ^ "Great Expectations reviews". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  14. ^ "Great Expectations". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2012-12-01.
  15. ^ "Home - Cinemascore". Cinemascore. Retrieved 28 December 2019.

External links[edit]