Release date: 7th November 2013
Director: Andrew Adamson
Cast: Hugh Laurie, Xzannjah, Florence Korokoro, Eka Darville
Classification: M (Mature Themes and Violence)
Review by Peter Gray
Every so often a film comes along that completely catches you off guard. Whether it be through its content, its tone, the performances contained within, a general unawareness to the story being told, or a culmination of all the above, there’s something that affects you to make you stand up and take notice. In the case of ‘Mr Pip’ it was an amalgamation of all.
Set in New Guinea circa 1989, expatriate Brit Mr Watts (Hugh Laurie) has travelled with his sickly wife Grace (Florence Korokoro) to the island province of Bougainville, a region that has been blockaded by the government, leading locals to fend for themselves. Re-opening the local school in hopes of educating and uniting not just the children but their parents as well, Mr Watts, dubbed Popeye by the students, transfixes the island with his animated readings of the classic Charles Dickens novel ‘Great Expectations’. Hearing this story has a particularly profound effect on young Matilda (Xzannjah), who envisions the character Pip (Eka Darville) as a local boy and sees his story parallel her own.
Initially it appears as if ‘Mr Pip’ will travel down the oft ventured road of a feel-good feature as the first half of the film is suitably warm, bordering on almost stereotypical, with the all-too familiar story of the teacher forced to overcome bigotry and unawareness to teach his students about a better, more hopeful existence. Laurie, in a role far removed from his more well-known turn on ‘House’, cuts a fine figure as the enthusiastic Mr Watts, bouncing naturally off the largely unprofessional cast of children who are all rightly endearing as his pupils. As great as Laurie is though, it’s young Bougainville native Xzannjah that truly owns the film. Whilst few of us could wholly relate to her life experience, her tendency to imagine fictional characters as players in reality is more universal, as the idea that pieces of fiction are more than just entertainment but a sanctuary is something I’m sure many of us can claim.
Much like director Andrew Adamson made a bold departure from his usual fare like ‘Shrek’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ with this much smaller scale film, the tone dramatically shifts halfway through as the atrocities committed against Bougainville natives is highlighted in particularly disturbing fashion. Though the film isn’t overly graphic in its visuals, its content is with a heartbreaking execution sequence and rape scene packing a serious punch, leaving the remainder of the film to be experienced with a cloud of distraught and sadness over its audience. As uncomfortable and as gut-wrenching I found this particular moment of the film, it at least sheds a crucial light on Bougainville’s struggle for independence, something we take for granted often too lightly.
‘Mr Pip’ isn’t getting much of a wide release during its cinema run so it will be unfortunately overlooked coming up to the holiday season, but I do suggest trying to seek it out. It’s a hard film for me to recommend viewing in regards to its content and emotional impact, but there’s such beauty and truth amongst it that it feels like a necessary cinematic excursion to take.
My rating 3.5/5 (An emotional surprise)

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