Country: United Kingdom
Books written by Charles Dickens have been translated into the medium of film for years and years. From Oliver Twist to A Christmas Carol, his stories have been made into musicals as well as animated films. Perhaps one of the most famous renditions of Charles Dickens’ immortal story Great Expectations is the 1946 film made by David Lean.
Lean is considered to be one of the most influential filmmakers in the world, and is revered by many famous directors. At the time Great Expectations was made, Lean was just starting to get noticed. He would then go on to make iconic films such as Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India, which immortalised him as the man with an epic vision. In fact Steven Spielberg had once said that he wanted to be a director after watching Lawrence of Arabia.
Lean’s impact in the world of cinema is therefore undeniable, and any fan of old films, or films based on books, or even David Lean, should never commit the sacrilege of not watching Great Expectations.
Pip, (played by Anthony Wager as a child and John Mills as an adult), is a poor orphan who is threatened by an escaped convict to give him food. Pip steals some and hands it over to the convict. Also during his childhood, an old rich woman, Miss Havisham (who was abandoned on her marriage day), calls Pip to spend time with her, paying her for his company. There he meets a cruel but absolutely beautiful teenager, Estella, with whom he later falls in love.
Many years later, Pip discovers that he has been taken under the wing of a secret benefactor, whose identity he is unsure of. As a result, Pip moves into the city and lives with Herbert Pocket (played by Alec Guinness) and rubs shoulders with high class people. Who exactly is this secret benefactor? Pip thinks it is Miss Havisham, but is he right?
John Mills is brilliant in his role here and though he was around 40 at the time the film was made, he makes the perfect Pip. Jean Simmons is another treat to watch, as the spoiled young Estella. Not only does she look uncannily like Vivien Leigh, but also to an extent, acts like her in Gone with the Wind. Valerie Hobson plays the older Estella to perfection as well. There will probably be no Miss Havisham as iconic as the one played by Martita Hunt.
The film is an absolute visual treat. Though it is in black and white, its start contrasts and haunting images make for a completely different experience. One only has to see the scene where Pip finds Miss Havisham sitting in her bridal dress in front of a rotting wedding cake just to believe it.
The film is absolutely haunting, and its images will play in your mind after you finish watching it. Surely this has to be the best adaptation of Great Expectations ever.
FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you are a fan of David Lean. Also watch it if you want to see a great rendition of Dickens’ classic tale. For Alec Guinness fans, here is a sneak preview of him as a young man, before he went on to play Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai, Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia and Obi Wan Kenobi in the old Star Wars trilogy.
Avoid it if you cannot bear black and white movies. Any other reason to avoid it? Definitely not.