A review by Brenda Daniels
Mr Pip is the story of a young girl, Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi), who grows up on the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. In this tropical “paradise” Matilda’s village experiences the realities of (true life) war, sparked by copper mining activities in the area. While the young girl’s father has left for the greener pastures of Australia, Matilda and her mother, the local Christian preacher, remain behind with other residents.
The only white man left on the island, Mr Watts (Hugh Laurie), is persuaded to be a stand-in teacher. Not trained in the profession, Mr Watts teaches from the one thing he seems to know best – the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Pip, the main character in the novel, really captures the imagination of Matilda and his story becomes hers in Mr Pip.
Just as Pip’s name and his search for identity is crucial to the novel, so Matilda grapples with her own identity and where she truly belongs. This is all played out against a military backdrop and incorporates an interplay of opposing elements such as black and white, ignorance and education, European and local, Christianity and traditional beliefs.
The action lapses into scenes in which Matilda imagines herself in Pip’s world. These are strange, fantastical parts to the film, which may go misunderstood by viewers who are not familiar with Great Expectations.
Mr Pip is an unusual, ambitious interweaving of three different stories – Pip’s, Matilda’s, and Bougainville’s. Enthusiasts of Great Expectations will appreciate the fervour with which Dickens’s work is presented. I really enjoyed it.
Mr Pip opens countrywide in South Africa at Cinema Nouveau on Friday 1 August.