Review: Mr Pip movie confronting and powerful


Bougainville and its people are the stars of the film Mr Pip, which is set against the island’s troubled past.

mr-pip-5Charles Dickens’ nineteenth century masterpiece Great Expectations is a novel about an ambitious young man learning to embrace his humble origins rather than deny them.

Mr Pip, the film of Lloyd Jones’ award-winning novel, has at its centre a similar theme, although the hero is a young girl, and the home she has to learn to embrace is the troubled island of Bougainville.

Now an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea, at the time the film is set (the early 1990s) Bougainville is an island under blockade and in the grip of debilitating civil strife following the closure of its massive Panguna copper mine.

Filmed largely on the island, Mr Pip’s depictions of traditional life on Bougainville are respectful and sympathetic, while its use of many locals in key acting roles works extremely well. Xzannjah is outstanding as the heroine Matilda, as is Florence Korokoro as her mother, Grace. Distinguished English actor Hugh Laurie’s performance is admirably restrained and generous to his fellow actors, while the many child actors light up the screen.

The task of turning his fellow New Zealander Lloyd Jones’ bestselling novel into a film was clearly a labour of love for director, writer and producer, Andrew Adamson, who has produced a moving and original film that contains its share of visual and plot surprises, not all of them pleasant.

With so many first-time actors in key roles, and given the obvious demands of filming on location, it seems churlish to judge this film too harshly for what some have viewed as structural flaws.

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In the end, like Great Expectations, Mr Pip offers an ending that refuses to ignore the suffering that has gone before.

For those whose interest in Papua New Guinea post-dates the Bougainville Crisis, the film raises many questions about the civil conflict there in the late 1980s and 1990s. While its depiction of atrocities is particularly harrowing, all the more for their similarity to documented events, it is a work of fiction, not a documentary.

One of the film’s most memorable moments is when the heroine Matilda looks out over a breathtaking view of the now-dilapidated Panguna mine. The irony of this now rusted and overgrown hole in the ground being the source of so much human misery is palpable.

There is reportedly still a lot of copper in the ground on Bougainville. With the Autonomous Bougainville Government now supporting a re-opening of the mine, and Bougainville Copper Limited still seeking a way back into the project, the release of this film is timely.

Mr Pip has just been released in Australia.


  1. Ans Mak says

    As a GUY from where actually filming had taken place, It is so challenging to the villagers and main characters who acts in the film, it could be better if ITS CONTINUE with second part. Tampara

  2. Michael Lynch says

    An inventive, sweet and terrifying film, if not altogether successful in its daunting filmic ambitions. To find out that it used local actors explains the very authentic character that the pre-raid scenes exuded. The interweaving of Matilda’s version of Great Expectations, with its brilliant costuming and poignant commentary, was, if not quite honed, nevertheless was enjoyable and worked the plot well. The violence toward the end was stark, stunning and painfully honest, unlike the glitzed up, special-effects driven caricatures that Hollywood is predisposed to. It had a visceral effect that is disturbing and haunting. Precisely what a work of art should aspire to. While the ending seemed a bit whirlwind and rushed, that Matilda was able to not become yet another war-damaged adult, is a powerful testament and strain of hope in what otherwise is such a tragic and intractable conflict.

  3. Edia Silvis says

    This is the fairest review of the film Mr. Pip that I have read yet. As an American who spent much of his adult life living in an area of the world where there were many things similar to the conditions portrayed in this film, I found it to be deeply moving and extremely authentic, even the most nightmarish scenes. When one realizes that there are many places in the world where life is balanced on a thin knife edge and the slightest wind can blow it away, it changes how you see and understand this film.

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