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UK 1946
Directed by
David Lean
118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Great Expectations (1946)

At nearly 40, John Mills was way too old to play a 20 year old Pip (and making his screen debut Alec Guiness is almost as over-aged to play his chum, Herbert Pocket) but this is such an engaging adaptation of Dickens' 1862 novel (necessarily much of which has been jettisoned) that one overlooks the incongruity to enjoy Lean's cpativating staging of it.

A classic hero’s quest Dickens's novel tells the story of how Pip (played by Anthony Wager as a boy then by Mills), an orphan seemingly destined to life as blacksmith is lifted out of his station firstly by the mad spinster Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) who introduces him to the beautiful but heartless Estella (Jean Simmons then Valerie Hobson) and then by a mysterious benefactor and sets out to be a gentleman and win Estella’s love.

The film skilfully brings to life Dicken’s portrait of mid-Victorian England and his wonderful skill with characterizations and plotting. If Mills does a commendable job in the lead the strength of the film is in its rendition of Dickens’ secondary characters: Francis L. Sullivan as Jaggers, the shrewd solicitor; Ivor Bernard as Wemmick, his Old Bailey clerk; Jean Simmons as the young Estella; Finlay Currie as the escaped convict Magwitch; Martita Hunt as mad Miss Havisham; Bernard Miles as the kindly blacksmith; and Alec Guinness as the ebullient Herbert Pocket, to name only the most prominent.

Lean, with the help Guy Green's black and white cinematography, creates a marvellous visual form for the story contrasting the mist-shrouded poverty of the Kentish marshes with the meretricious shallowness of city life whilst firming up the somewhat ambiguous conclusion of the original  story (which had already been lightened by Dickens at the suggestion of his publisher Edward Bulwer-Lytton) with a more conventional happy ending.




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