Directed by David Lean
Written by David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allen, etc. from the novel by Charles Dickens
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#203 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
The first half of this film is one of the great Dickens adaptations and it is visually gorgeous throughout.
Young orphan Pip (Tony Wager) is being raised by his mean sister and her kind blacksmith husband Jo Gargery (Bernard Miles). One day, as he is visiting his parents’ grave in a cemetery near the river, he chances upon a convict, Magwich (Finlay Curry) who scares the daylights out of him. The convict demands a file and some food on threat that a “young man” will eat Pip’s liver. More out of pity than fear, Pip comes through with the goods.
A little later, Pip is summoned by the rich, eccentric Miss Havesham (Martita Hunt) to come to her house and play. On arrival, Pip is greeted by the dismissive and insulting but beautiful Estella (Jean Simmons). It is lifelong love at first sight for Pip, despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Estella vocally looks down upon the boy as “common”. Miss Havesham, an aged bride who has not seen the light of day since her jilting, encourages Pip’s longing. Pip continues to visit the house until he needs to start his apprenticeship with Jo. Thereafter, he returns each year to collect a generous birthday present. Estella, by this time, has been sent to finishing school in France.
The pivotal event in Pip’s life occurs when he is in his late teens. An anonymous benefactor has established a fund to allow him to go to London and become a gentleman. Pip, who has been dreaming of finally winning Estella, jumps at the opportunity. In London, he is taken in hand by lawyer Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan) and is given over to share rooms with one Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness, in his first credited performance), who teaches him social graces.
Pip is reacquainted with Estella (Valerie Hobson) when she returns from France. She refuses to flirt with him, as she does with all others, and tells him she has no heart. Pip persists in his infatuation. Then a second earthquake turns all Pip’s expectations upside down.
I’m a bit of a Dickens nut and I love the source novel about a boy who has to learn the hard way to take life at face value. Its story about how we need to learn to be grateful for what we have resonates with me.
This film is a feast for the eyes. I especially like the early scenes in the graveyard, which convey so perfectly the terrors of a child but the whole thing is beautiful. As story telling, I find the second half dealing with Pip’s adulthood falls short of the first. This is a fault shared with the novel but the casting didn’t help. For one thing, John Mills is too old for the part and, for another, there is no way Jean Simmons could grow up to be Valerie Hobson and, if she had, Hopkins’s Estella was far too compassionate to be the same person. Still, I looked forward to seeing this and look forward to seeing it again and again.
Great Expectations won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White. It was nominated in the following categories: Best Picture; Best Director; and Best Writing, Screenplay.
Clip – Opening sequence