Great Expectations

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Not recommended under 14, PG to 15 due to violence and disturbing scenes and themes

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Great Expectations
  • a review of Great Expectations completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 14 March 2013.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 14 Not recommended due to violence and disturbing scenes and themes
Children 14-15 parental guidance recommended due to violence and disturbing scenes and themes
Children 15 and over OK for this age group

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Great Expectations
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes and violence
Length: 129 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Great Expectations is the latest telling of the popular Charles Dickens classic.  On a visit to his father’s grave, ten-year-old Pip (Toby Irvine and, as an adult, Jeremy Irvine) has a terrifying contact with the escaped convict Magwitch (Ralph Fiennes) who threatens the child in the hope of receiving food.  Feeling sorry for Magwitch, Pip displays great kindness and brings him food and drink as he requests.  The convict is later found and taken away, but the memory remains in Pip’s mind. 

Pip was orphaned as a young child and spends his childhood growing up with his cruel older sister and her gentle husband Joe (Jason Flemyng).  Pip and Joe forge a strong love and friendship as Pip grows, guiding his life decisions and future.  After an invitation to meet with the local wealthy spinster Miss Havisham (Helena Bonham Carter), Pip meets the young Estella (Helena Barlow and, as an adult, Holiday Grainger) and quickly becomes besotted.  With hopes of winning the affections of the alluring Estella, Pip begins to dream of one day becoming a gentleman rather than take on his brother-in-law’s trade as a blacksmith

Years later an unexpected visitor arrives to see Pip at his home where he is working with Joe. Solicitor Mr Jaggers (Robbie Coltrane) has brought an offer from an unknown benefactor who wishes to give Pip his dream and make him a gentleman. 


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Cruelty to children; being an orphan; death and serious illness; crime, including murder

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including the following examples:

  • Pip is approached by a convict who is covered in mud.  The prisoner grabs him unexpectedly and threatens that if he does not bring him food he will eat his liver.
  • There a few scenes where 10 year old Pip is treated cruelly - grabbed by his ear, his head dunked into a bucket and whipped.
  • Two prisoners are seen in a violent fight.  One man hits the other man over the head with a rock.
  • A man thinks someone is stealing from his home.  He grabs him and punches him.
  • A woman strangles another woman, who is seen dead and blue.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Miss Havisham’s mansion is dark and menacing and could be quite frightening for children of this age group.
  • Miss Havisham is accidently set alight and is seen on fire.  Pip tries to save her but is unsuccessful.  The scene depicts the burnt and charred Miss Havisham moaning as she dies.
  • A man is crushed by a paddle steamer.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • There is a scene where casts of dead men’s faces are seen and discussed
  • As a little girl, Estella is left by her parents (who are convicted criminals) and sent to live with Miss Havisham.  The scene is quite emotional and the Estella seems scared.
  • A man is seen dead after a struggle with illness

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by a number of the above-mentioned scenes.

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Younger children in this age group may also be disturbed by some of the above-mentioned scenes

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

None of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some kissing between adults

Use of substances

There is use of substances in this movie, including:

  • A number of scenes where men and women are seen drinking liquor and wine.  At times, it seen to be drunk to excess as people become rowdy and aggressive.
  • A few of the men throughout the movie, including Pip as an adult, are seen smoking cigarettes or pipes.

Coarse language

None of concern

In a nutshell

Great Expectations is the latest film version of one of Charles Dickens’ darker works, a story about a young man’s journey from poverty to wealth and the consequences of this social shift.

The main messages from this movie are about the effects of wealth on one’s social standing at the expense of important values such as compassion, decency, love and honour. Although children may read this book in upper primary or early high school years, parents should be aware that the movie is likely to have much greater impact and contains a number of violent and scary scenes and characters. The scenes involving the convict Magwitch, the treatment of Pip as a child, and the death of Miss Havisham in a fire are likely to be particularly disturbing for children under 14.  The film is therefore more suited to older teens and adults.

Parents of older children may wish to discuss:

  • 1800’s society and the importance of wealth and social standing on people lives and choices
  • The impact of Pip’s loss of both parents when he was only 6 years old.