Great Expectations

Great Expectations


Reviewed by: Merlin Harries

The collection of cinematic adaptations of Charles Dickens' work has proven to be a mixed bag, with varying degrees of success over the years. David Lean’s Great Expectations is one of the earliest and arguably most successful adaptations of one of Dickens' most popular and enduring novels. With a cast including the late Sir John Mills and Sir Alec Guinness it is easy to understand how transferring the literary behemoth to the silver screen brought widespread plaudits in both critical and industry circles.

John Mills takes on the part of Pip who, after inheriting a small fortune from an anonymous benefactor, enters in to high society as a young gentleman of means. David Lean went on to direct milestone pictures such as Brief Encounter (1945), The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) but Great Expectations represented one of the first opportunities to truly showcase his artistic vision.

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Following a very chilling scene where the young Pip meets escaped convict Magwitch (Finlay Currie) in a graveyard, he enters the company of Miss Haversham (Martita Hunt) a truly gothic and eccentric lady. Henceforth he also enters in to the high society of the time with smooth gent Herbert Pocket (Guinness) acting as his guide.

The true mastery of Lean’s adaptation lies in the natural accentuation of human drama despite the pervading influence of social satire in Dickens' work. The sudden social trajectory of the young pauper lends an often cutting observation of the class divide and a distinctly well-observed social commentary on the time.

Although this adaptation falls only slightly short of representing Lean’s greatest work it does encapsulate the zeitgeist of Dickens' novel. As the older and more refined Pip, Mills provides an apt turn, given the material but it is Guinness’s Pocket who steals the show. The real star of the piece though, as with any literary adaptation, is the story and Pip’s moving journey from social detritus to a snobbish gent is as enchanting as ever. Inevitably Lean’s hand is forced in paring down the material in places but this doesn’t detract from what is a thoroughly enjoyable film.

In terms of the sheer scope and grandeur of David Lean’s work his adaptation of Great Expectations is a consistent and undeniable hit. With a cast of such prolific talent, the film succeeds in becoming an enduring classic whose influence in further big-screen adaptations of the writer's work are there for all to see.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2007
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Classic adaptation of Dickens' novel about a orphan who finds a mystery inheritance propels him into high society.
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Read more Great Expectations reviews:

Scott Macdonald ****1/2

Director: David Lean

Writer: Anthony Havelock-Allan, adapted from the novel by Charles Dickens

Starring: John Mills, Alec Guinness, Anthony Wager, Valerie Hobson, Jean Simmons, Bernard Miles, Francis L Sullivan, Finlay Currie, Ivor Barnard, Martita Hunt

Year: 1946

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


London 2006

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