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Charles Dickens' 13th novel, Great Expectations was serialized in 1860-1861 and found a welcome home on many bookshelves. Like many of Dickens' fascinating stories and characters, Great Expectations also found its way to the screen. The first movie adaptation was produced in 1917, and by my count, there have been seven films and eleven television versions of the tale thus far.
Anthony Wager, David Lean, Jean Simmons
Director/writer/editor David Lean proved a sure hand with this, his first foray into Dickens. Sadly, for this fan, his 1948 version of Oliver Twist would be his last trip to the Dickens well. Other stories and films would capture his interest.
Great Expectations, released in 1946, was the work of Lean's felicitous collaboration with writers Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, and his wife of the decade Kay Walsh, uncredited. The screenwriting team was nominated for an Oscar, as was Lean as director, and the film.
Brilliant cinematographer turned director Guy Green was most deserving of his Oscar for Black and White Cinematography. John Bryan and Wilfred Shingleton won the Oscar for Best Set Design-Art Direction. Actors who were frequent collaborators of David Lean, John Mills and Alec Guinness star in Great Expectations.
The collaborative work of the above-named creative minds gave us In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Oliver Twist, The Passionate Friends, Hobson's Choice and Ryan's Daughter.
Finlay Currie, Anthony Wager
"Pip, the making of a mensch" is how I think of Great Expectations. The young Pip we meet in the graveyard has a long way to go in life, and with each blessing there comes an obstacle.
The orphaned Pip played by Anthony Wager is taken in by his bitter older sister and her easy-going husband, blacksmith Joe Gargery. The couple is played by Bernard Miles and Freda Jackson, and through young Pip's eyes each characteristic is heightened and exaggerated.
A childhood encounter with an escaped convict, Magwitch played by Finlay Currie, is a frightening and important incident in Pip's life. The scenes between these two characters as filmed by Lean and Green are beautiful, nightmarish, and unforgettable.
Martita Hunt, Anthony Wager
Through the auspices of an upper-middle-class relative, Pip becomes known to a reclusive wealthy woman, Miss Havisham played by Martita Hunt. Pip has been asked to be a companion to Miss Havisham's adopted daughter Estella played by Jean Simmons. Miss Havisham and Estella are a strange pair, living in a mansion left to go to wrack and ruin, and using their position and power to make their inferiors cower. Nonetheless, Pip is besotted by the pretty Estella and feels he has reason to be beholden to Miss Havisham.
Upon reaching the age of majority an anonymous benefactor has bestowed upon Pip the wherewithal to live the life of a gentleman. Miss Havisham is the only wealthy person of his acquaintance, and her lawyer Mr. Jaggers played by Francis L. Sullivan being the bearer of the news of Pip's good fortune, lead Pip to believe she is his patron. The truth will be Pip's ultimate test of manhood.
John Mills plays the adult Pip and let's get this out of the way. At 37 years of age, Mr. Mills is hardly decrepit, but neither is he as young as the character he plays. There are moments when you are aware of the actor's age, but only in his looks. In every respect, John Mills plays young Pip as he thinks and behaves. His off-screen narration of the story is full of a clear-eyed self-awareness.
John Mills, Valerie Hobson
Valerie Hobson plays the adult Estella, raised by Miss Havisham to break men's hearts. Any trace of sentiment and affection has been bred out of the girl. However, she goes far enough to extend a warning to her youthful companion Pip that any hope for reciprocal kindness is out of reach.
Alec Guinness, Finlay Currie, John Mills
Pip is fortunate in his case of a companion. The young gentleman with whom he shares lodgings and who will teach him the proper way to waste time and money in the big city is Herbert Pocket played by Alec Guinness. This very picture of a wastrel will prove to be an invaluable and loyal friend in time of dire need.
Valerie Hobson, John Mills
The fabulous and outlandish Dickens characters are brought to life by a series of perfectly cast actors with a thoughtful script and a director who understands how to project the emotional depth of the story he is telling. Through tragedy, loss, fear and fearful revelations Pip goes through the trial by fire to discover his soul and the soul to be discovered in others.
Winner of two Academy Awards and accolades from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Great Expectations is worthy of its reputation as a classic in the filmography of David Lean and the history of Dickens on screen.