One of the great translations of literature into film, David Lean's Great Expectations brings Charles Dickens' masterpiece to robust onscreen life. Pip, Magwitch, Miss Havisham, and Estella populate Lean's magnificent mini... more »ature, beautifully photographed by Guy Green and designed by John Bryan.« less
"An Academy Award winner for Best Art and Set Direction and Best Cinematography in a black and white film, this 1947 version of the classic Dickens novel was adapted for the screen by British director David Lean. I can understand why it won those awards. Without the availability of modern technical effects, he was able to create a perfect atmosphere and sense of foreboding, keeping the mood and dark macabre feeling of the novel throughout. He also kept some key scenes intact, the young Pip's meeting with the convict, the mad Miss Havisham, and the ghoulish atmosphere in the law offices of Mr. Jaggers, whose walls are decorated with the death masks of clients he had lost to the gallows.In most respects, this film stayed true to the novel. But it is impossible to condense Dickens into a spare two-hour film. Perhaps it was because I had just finished the novel the day before, but I couldn't help but notice how some characters were missing, many scenes were eliminated, the ending was changed and the plot seemed an oversimplification of the one I had just lived with in the book for the past month.Without exception, all of the actors were excellent, but I wondered a bit at the casting. John Mills played the young pip who was supposed to be 20. In reality, he was 38 years old at the time and, in those days before plastic surgery, even had some crows feet around his eyes. Alex Guinness, who was cast as Herbert Pocket who befriends the adult Pip, was actually 32 and both of these gentlemen just didn't have the freshness of youth that was so apparent in the Dickens novel. Age didn't seem to matter though in the casting of the convict. Finlay Currie, with his craggy face and threatening bearing was 68, but he played the role as if it was created just for him. Jean Simmons played the young Estella, her performance overshadowing that of Valerie Hopson who was cast as the older Estella. Marita Hunt played Miss Havisham, exactly as I had pictured her in my mind's eye. And Francis L. Sullivan's gave a perfect portrayal of the lawyer Jaggers.Perhaps if I had let several decades pass between my reading of the book and my viewing of the film, the edges would have softened on my memory and I would have not been as critical. The film was really good and a great way to experience Dickens through this director's interpretation of his work. It certainly is a wonderful story and I've noticed from a bit of research on the Net that there are nine movie versions, three TV programs and four TV series. I plan to keep on the lookout for other videos which might exist of these offerings as I am now fascinated by the story and by the variety of interpretations. I do recommend this 1947 version, especially if you haven't read the book. It is totally in keeping with the intentions of the original."
To Dickens Greatness Comes From Within
Martin Asiner | jersey city, nj United States | 01/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It has never been easy to tranfer Dickens from the printed page to the moving screen. His plots are all too often multi-layered, containing what today's readers might think of as an excessive number of characters. Nevertheless, the very best filmed adaptations still retain enough of the flavor of the original to keep the movie's actions on line. Director David Lean in GREAT EXPECTATIONS has created a moody, black and white period piece that perfectly captures the essence of how a young and fearful boy sees his bleak surroundings. This element of bleakness, so evident in most of Dickens, is especially prominent here, both externally in the grim, forbidding exteriors of the graveyard that introduces the film and internally in the myriad of blows that buffet young Pip (Anthony Wager) for nearly the entire film. As was common for most of his child heroes, Dickens gave them a juvenile view of a universe that was inhospitable for them. Adults were often unpredicatable and cruel in a manner than resonates even today. Young Pip sees terror nearly everywhere. The escaped criminal, Magwitch (Finlay Currie), his elder sister Mrs. Gargery (Freda Jackson), and the weirdly dressed Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) all combine to make Pip's existence full of doubt and fear. There are only a few adults whom Pip trusts, one of whom is his decent and honorable brother-in-law Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles).
As Pip matures,(now played by John Mills) he now realizes that his initial perception of the universe as intrinsically unstable was essentially a correct one. What he does learn, at great cost to his pride and self-respect, is that he can alter the equations of this universe slightly by a corresponding alteration in his perception of that universe. By the novel's end, he can see more clearly the inner natures of those who most impacted on him. Joe Gargery he now can see as the good man he always was. Magwitch is a man whom life pushed down the wrong path only to later relocate himself on the right one. Estella has had time to mature even as he has. Thus, the great expectations of the title is itself revealed as having undergone a metamorphosis. Pip has learned a brutal lesson: the measurement of greatness is a function more of the heart than of the wallet. Not everyone watching this movie can say the same."
A Great Movie From A Great Novel, And Perfectly Cast
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 12/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If a movie ever captured better the look in your head of a book you've read than David Lean's Great Expectations, I don't know what it would be. From the moment young Pip is seen running along the marsh road to the deserted cemetery and his encounter with the escaped convict, Magwitch (scaring Pip as well as us half to death) to Pip the young man ripping down the dust-laden, moldering drapes in Miss Havisham's decaying mansion and letting the daylight in, we see what we imagined, and it's just about perfect.
Great Expectations is one of Charles Dickens' greatest novels, and the movie, in my opinion, is David Lean's greatest accomplishment as a director. You'd have to be a cynic not to be captured by this story of a young, poor boy, an orphan raised in a blacksmith's home by his sister and her husband, who unexpectedly becomes a young gentleman of great expectations.
Lean chose actors who bring the characters vividly to life. Pip (John Mills) is a young man who has become self-satisfied with the mysterious funds he receives that have enabled him to become a gentleman. In time, however, he realizes "that in becoming a gentleman, I had only succeeded in becoming a snob." But Pip's innate honesty and humanity come through as he accepts the debt he owes to his benefactor and faces the love he has for Estella. Jean Simmons as young Estella and Valerie Hobson as Estella the woman are beautiful and cruel, as Estella was raised to be by Miss Havisham. Francis L. Sullivan is perfect as the large, shrewd lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, who knows all the secrets. Miss Havisham is played by Martita Hunt. Miss Havisham was abandoned on her wedding day years before. She has retreated into bitterness, living within her mansion as if time at stopped, the draperies closed, still wearing her wedding dress, cobwebs festooning the rooms and the banquet table still fully set, bearing what remains of the bride's cake. She will see to it that men, through Estella, will suffer as she suffered. Finlay Currie is Magwitch, the tough, hulking convict who was unexpectedly touched by young Pip bringing him food. Alec Guinness is Herbert Pocket, good natured, energetic and a true friend.
At the end of the story, Pip and Estella realize they will have great expectations together. There is sadness, happiness, redemption, regret and love. Most off all, there are these marvelous characters in a great story.
The Criterion DVD looks fine. There are no significant extras. An insert contains an informative essay about the film and Lean by Adrian Turner, a British film critic."
An English Teacher's Review
Jefferson T. Packer | Taos, NM | 12/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I should mention first that this is the only film version of "Great Expectations" that I have ever seen. There may be better ones, but I'm only qualified to talk about this one.
My 10th graders were spellbound by this film. They saw it on a big screen from an Epson 720p projector with big stereo sound, which probably helped. However, their reaction to it really surprised me. From the first frame they were rapt, and it turned into one of their favorite experiences of the year.
David Lean's brilliant cinematography is partly responsible for this - the lighting and composition are absolutely stupendous. Many people talk about the "possibilities" of black and white, but David Lean delivers them. The film is visually stunning.
The film also does a decent, if not perfect, job of following the book; obviously some scenes needed to be shortened or left out entirely or this would have been a five hour film. It is not so accurate that you can read a chapter and then watch it, but it is accurate enough that it is certainly worth showing as a reward for finishing the book.
I withhold the fifth star only because the actresses who play young Estella and "grown woman" Estella are so jarringly different as to be almost impossible to accept as the same character. For instance, young Estella seems to have a nose from Sweden, while grown Estella's nose seems to hail from somewhere near Rome. The actresses just aren't similar enough to sustain even the most willing suspension of disbelief.
The actress who plays Miss Havisham, however, is utterly perfect, and her whole broken-hearted domain is reproduced exactly as I imagined it from the book, right down to the mouse-gnawed, spider-infested wedding cake. Her 25 year-long tantrum is shown as half-hilarious, half-horrifying, which is exactly as Dickens intended it in my opinion, and the actress captures the perfect blend of nuances in portraying this unique character as perfectly as she could be portrayed.
The rest of the characters are quite well done also, including the attorney, Pip's sister, Joe and the "pale young gentleman." Even the clerk with "The Aged" father is well played, although the tour of his castle-house from the book is absent. Pip himself is portrayed very appropriately by both the young and older actors, and never disappoints.
Along with the characters, the film provides an incredible amount of tantalizing 19th century detail, enough to keep even the sleepiest, most sullen student awake at 8:02 am on a cold winter morning. All in all, well worth the $35 asking price, especially because, like all Criterion titles in my experience, the DVD transfer looks and sounds absolutely beautiful."
Changed from the book but still worth seeing!
Susan K. Schoonover | Boulder, CO | 06/22/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The characters of Charles Dickens's timeless tale come to life in spellbinding black and white that perfectly captures the book's tone. Both Estella and Miss Havisham's characters are vastly sweetened from the book. Estella has genuine affection for Pip instead of just seeing him as another person to manipulate. Miss Havisham is actually concerned when Estella and Pip fight instead of being happy that her master plan of having Estella break Pip's heart is succeeding. These changes allow for the overly saccharin ending that is greatly different in tone and plot from either of the two grim endings Dickens actually wrote for the book."