Eye For Film >> Movies >> Great Expectations (1946) Film Review
Charles Dickens and David Lean do know how to spin yarns. Fresh from his springboard success in Brief Encounter, Lean assembled an outstanding crew, a break-neck script, and solid performances to craft one of the finest book to film adaptations of all time - but his Oliver Twist is even better!
And what of the plot? A common boy, blacksmith's apprentice Pip does an uncommon kindness to convict Magwitch (a terrifying Finlay Currie), and is spirited away to a queer stately home every couple of weeks to visit an ageing lady, Miss Havisham, and her very beautiful and cold daughter, Estella. Pip grows up into a young man played by Sir John Mills, with and a mysterious benefactor has him brought to London to live as a gentleman... but, he "realised that in becoming a gentleman, I had only succeeded in becoming a snob".
Even from the opening shot of the camera leering over the pages of Dickens and Mills reading it aloud - David Lean's great achievement with his adaptation is the visual trappings within the walls of the text. Who could ever forget Miss Havisham's dank dungeon of a stately home? Or indeed, how it merges seamlessly and yet distinctly with that we have in our minds eye. The house itself is caked in dust and cobwebs and Havisham herself unable and unwilling to live within the field of time after her wedding-day heartbreak.
Her clothes, a magnificent wedding dress worn to rags, and a cake having decayed for decades. The hideous lair calls to mind Billy Wilder's outstanding Hollywood satire, Sunset Boulevard, with the deranged Norma Desmond. Lean is aided immeasurably by Oscar-winning cinematographer Guy Green. His early scenes set in the graveyard with Magwitch flirt with the visual stylings all so common in horror films, and the quiet, scratching sound design.
Pip suffers, much to the pleasure of Havisham, having crafted a deadly weapon in her daughter to all men in the guise of stunning beauty. Systematic abuse of her daughter pays off against the male sex. This delicate character's thread comes to a head in astonishingly vivid fashion - improving on the source.
The great aspect of reading Dickens' prose is the fashion in which his characters linger in the memory, as a flavour of a person's humanity. Lean's success in casting, therefore, is a great deal of the battle, so as to entirely replicate the images the book inspires. Chris Columbus, with his turgid and uneventful Harry Potter films certainly realised this, although he lacked Lean's incisive skill in compressing story and time. John Mills - while looking about ten years too old for our hero, Pip - has certainly the youthful exuberance and the adult knowledge of human habit and sufferings. Other characters who have precious little screentime yet still linger in the memory include Mr Jaggers (Francis L Sullivan), the lawyer whose tumultuous revelations are equally offshadowed by his great, bulky and booming body. Alec Guinness, as Herbert Pocket is also wonderful as a straightforward conscience and accomplice - functioning as a way for Pip to externalise his thoughts and ideas directly.
I may have had Great Expectations, but it is everything I hoped it would be.Reviewed on: 21 Sep 2007