Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Great Expectations (1946 film)
Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, Great Expectations is the story of a boy’s encounter with a convict that would eventually lead to his development upon meeting an eccentric rich spinster whose adopted daughter he falls for and later pursues as an adult. Directed by David Lean and screenplay by Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame, and Kay Walsh, the film is an adaptation of one of Dickens’ acclaimed novels as it explores a man trying to find himself but also cope with his need to be with a person who treats him with indifference. Starring John Mills, Anthony Wagner, Jean Simmons, Valerie Hobson, Alec Guinness, Martita Hunt, Bernard Miles, and Finlay Currie. Great Expectations is a rich and evocative film from David Lean.
The film follows the journey of a young boy from a humble and poor background whose encounter with an escaped convict would lead to unexpected fortunes where he would become a gentleman and be given opportunities that others would never have while pursuing a young woman whom he had been in love with since he was a boy. It’s a film that follows the journey of this boy who would become a man as he would find himself in situations that would play into his development as well as cope with the changes he would endure. The film’s screenplay is largely told from the film’s perspective of its protagonist Pip (John Mills) as he recalls his journey as a boy (Anthony Wagner) who was living with his sister (Freda Jackson) and her blacksmith husband Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles). Visiting his the grave of his parents, he would encounter this convict (Finlay Currie) who threatens him unless Pip brings food, drink, and a file for his chains as the young Pip would do so.
It’s this act of kindness to the convict that would mark the start of good fortune for Pip who would be asked by an acquaintance of the reclusive Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) to be a playmate for her adopted daughter Estella (Jean Simmons) who isn’t fond of Pip. Even as Pip has to endure her cruelty though Miss Havisham does find him to be fascinating as she sees that Pip has the potential to be so much more. By the time Pip grows into a man where he would be Joe’s apprentice, the film would show Pip getting some unexpected fortunes as he believes that Miss Havisham is his benefactor. Moving to London, Pip would learn how to be a gentleman with the help of Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness) and Miss Havisham’s lawyer Mr. Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan) as he would cope in how to behave and act like a gentleman and fit in to society. Yet, he would also pursue the adult Estella (Valerie Hobson) who would treat him coldly as Pip would learn why she is the way she is as it all goes back to Miss Havisham who would cope with the way she raised Estella.
David Lean’s direction does have elements of style in the compositions in some scenes yet much of the film is presented in a straightforward fashion. Shot on location at Denham Film Studios in Buckhamshire, the film play into two different worlds such as the rural beachside landscape that Pip lives with his sister and Joe where Miss Havisham’s estate is also located at and London where the adult Joe would live and work at with Pocket. Lean’s usage of the wide shots would capture the location as well as the world the older Pip is in as it relates to the dance halls with Estella as it also play into this sense of detachment from Estella who has other interests. Lean’s usage of close-ups and medium shots play into the despair that Pip would endure in his pursuit of Estella as well as these stylistic slanted shots in how Pip and Miss Havisham would engage each other in a scene.
Lean’s direction also play into this element of dramatic suspense as it relates to the identity of Pip’s benefactor as well as other revelations about Miss Havisham’s past and Estella herself. Much of Lean’s direction would have these moments that are surreal but also chilling as it relates to some of the things in Pip’s past as a child where Lean would provide subtle hints in the imagery. The estate of Miss Havisham does have elements of horror in its look yet it more represents this metaphorical sense of Miss Havisham’s sense of loss and the reasons she would give Estella this world that is cold and unforgiving. All of which forces Pip to make sense of everything as well as provide a sense of hope through simple acts of kindness in a world that is often very cruel. Overall, Lean crafts a riveting and intoxicating film about a boy’s journey into a gentleman and his pursuit towards a woman who filled with uncertainty and a cold demeanor.
Cinematographer Guy Green, with opening sequence by Robert Krasker, does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography to capture the look of the landscape as well as the array of natural lighting for many of the interiors in Miss Havisham’s estate as well as some scenes set at night. Editor Jack Harris does excellent work with the editing as it play into the drama and suspense as well as some stylish montages to play into Pip’s growth in becoming a gentleman. Production designer Jack Bryan, with set decorator Erik Blakemore and art director Wilfred Shingleton, does fantastic work with the look of the sets including Miss Havisham’s home and the apartment he would share with Pocket.
Costume designer Sophie Devine does amazing work with the costumes from the look of the suits that the men wore during the 19th Century to the dresses including the ones that Estella wore. Sound editor Winston Ryder does terrific work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the locations as well as the sound of winds and the oceans for a key scene in the third act. The film’s music by Walter Goehr is superb for its sumptuous orchestral score that play into the drama and some of the film’s lighter moments as well as the suspenseful moments with its heavy strings and percussions.
The casting by Pat MacConnell, Adele Raymond, and Maude Spector do wonderful work with the casting as it include notable small roles from O.B. Clarence as Mr. Wemmick’s father, Torin Thatcher as a gentleman Estella is pursuing, Ivor Barnard as a man who helps Pip in a plan late in the film in Mr. Wemmick, Eileen Erskine as Joe’s new lover Biddy whom Pip is fond of, Freda Jackson as Joe’s first wife/Pip’s sister, John Forrest as a young version of Pocket that the young Pip meets at Miss Havisham’s home, and Francis L. Sullivan in a terrific performance as Miss Havisham’s lawyer Mr. Jaggers who would take Pip in for work as well as tell some things about Miss Havisham and Estella late in the film. Bernard Miles is superb as Joe Gargery as a blacksmith who is married to Pip’s sister in the first act as he is a father figure of sorts to Pip as well as someone who is willing to support him no matter how out of sorts he is with the rest of the world.
Alec Guinness is fantastic as Herbert Pocket as Pip’s co-worker who would help him in the ways of being a gentleman as well as informing Pip about what happened to Miss Havisham in her early life Anthony Wager is excellent as the young Pip who would deal with his encounter with the convict as well as young Estella’s cruelty where he would end up being fascinated by her. Jean Simmons is brilliant as the young Estella as a young girl who is quite cruel yet is intrigued by Pip for not giving into her insults while having desires to be a lady. Finlay Currie is amazing as the mysterious convict the young Pip meets early in the film as he would threaten him for food and a file to break away from his chains as he is touched by Pip’s kindness where he would later get him out of trouble as he would also appear in the film’s third act.
Martita Hunt is remarkable as Miss Havisham as an old woman who lives in a decayed estate that invites Pip to be her adopted daughter’s playmate as she is fascinated by the young boy but also deals with a sense of heartbreak as it represents her loss and sense of disappointment with the world. Valerie Hobson is incredible as Estella as a woman who is eager to make it into society yet would treat Pip as a prop rather than a person in her pursuit to be a bigger deal in society. Finally, there’s John Mills in a marvelous performance as older Pip as a man who is given a chance to be a gentleman as well as be part of society only to deal with some of the things that happen which makes him uneasy as well as his pursuit of Estella whom he sees as someone that is need to be loved.
Great Expectations is a phenomenal film from David Lean. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a compelling script that is faithful to the Dickens novel, and a sumptuous music score. It’s a film that bear a lot of what is expected from Dickens with visual ideas from Lean that makes the film a top-notch adaptation. In the end, Great Expectations is a sensational film from David Lean.
Related: Great Expectations (1998 film)
David Lean Films: In Which We Serve - (This Happy Breed) – Blithe Spirit - Brief Encounter - Oliver Twist (1948 film) – The Passionate Friends - Madeleine (1950 film) – The Sound Barrier - Hobson's Choice - (Summertime (1955 film)) – The Bridge on the River Kwai - Lawrence of Arabia - Doctor Zhivago - Ryan's Daughter - (Lost and Found: The Story of Cook’s Anchor) – A Passage to India - (The Auteurs #75: David Lean)
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