Great Expectations 1946 Film
Great Expectations is a 1946 British film which won two Academy Awards (Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography) and was nominated for three others (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay). It was directed by David Lean, based on the novel by Charles Dickens and stars John Mills, Bernard Miles, Finlay Currie, Jean Simmons, Martita Hunt, Alec Guinness and Valerie Hobson.
The script, a slimmed-down version of Dickens’ novel that had been inspired after seeing an abridged stage version of the novel, in which Guinness (responsible for the adaptation) played Herbert Pocket and Martita Hunt was Miss Havisham – casting that was carried over into the film – was written by David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame and Kay Walsh. The film was produced by Ronald Neame and photographed byGuy Green. It was the first of two films Lean directed based on Dickens’ novels, the other being his 1948 adaptation of Oliver Twist.
Orphan Phillip “Pip” Pirrip (Anthony Wager) lives with his shrewish older sister and her kind-hearted blacksmith husband, Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles). One day, Pip runs into an escaped convict, Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie), who intimidates the boy into getting him some food and a file for his chains. Magwitch is caught when he attacks a hated fellow escapee, and is taken back to prison.
Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), an eccentric rich spinster, arranges to have the Pip come to her mansion regularly to provide her with company and to play with a cruel but beautiful teenage girl, Estella (Jean Simmons). Estella mocks Pip’s coarse manners at every opportunity, but Pip quickly falls in love with her. The visits come to an end when Pip turns 14 and begins his apprenticeship as a blacksmith. Estella also leaves, to learn to become a lady.
Six years later Miss Havisham’s lawyer, Mr. Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan), visits Pip to tell him that a mysterious benefactor has offered to transform him (played as an adult by John Mills) into a gentleman, one with “great expectations”; Pip assumes it is Miss Havisham. He is taken to London, where Mr. Jaggers arranges for Pip to stay with Herbert Pocket (played as an adult by Alec Guinness), who will teach him how to behave like a gentleman. From Herbert, Pip learns that Miss Havisham was left at the altar many years ago; she is determined to avenge herself against all men, and Estella is her instrument to break men’s hearts.
After Pip turns 21, Joe Gargery comes to visit him, bringing a request from Miss Havisham to visit her. There he is delighted to be reunited with Estella (Valerie Hobson), who tells him, “You must know, Pip, I have no heart.” Estella and Pip spend much time together. She confesses to Pip that despite flirting with the wealthy but unpopular Bentley Drummle, she has absolutely no feelings for him.
Pip receives another visitor from the past, Magwitch, who reveals that he is Pip’s patron. After being warned that an old enemy (the other escapee at the beginning of the film) knows that Magwitch is in London, Pip makes preparations to smuggle the old man onto a packet boat and accompany him to the continent. He bids farewell to Estella, who tells him that she is going to marry Drummle.
Pip, Herbert and Magwitch row out to the packet boat, but are intercepted by the waiting police, tipped off by Magwitch’s great enemy. Magwitch is seriously injured in a struggle with his nemesis. He had spoken to Pip of his lost daughter, and Pip’s suspicion that she is Estella is confirmed by Mr. Jaggers. Pip visits the dying Magwitch and tells him of her fate, and that he, Pip, is in love with her; Magwitch passes away, a contented man.
Stricken by illness and with his expectations gone, Pip is taken home and nursed back to health by Joe Gargery. He revisits Miss Havisham’s deserted house, where he finds Estella. Her plans for the future have also gone awry, as Drummle had broken off their engagement after Mr. Jaggers informed him of her true parentage. Learning that Estella plans to live in seclusion in the house, which she has inherited, Pip proceeds to tear down the curtains and force open the boarded-up windows; for the first time in years sunlight illuminates the room, revealing cobwebs, dust, and decay. Pip tells Estella that he has never stopped loving her. After hesitating, she embraces him and they leave the house together.
Differences from the novel
Apart from a general compression of time and detail necessary to adopt any novel to film, the major changes from the novel to the screenplay include the following:
- The happy ending of the film differs greatly from the novel, which takes place 11 years after most of the events and is slightly more ambiguous.
- The characters of Orlick, Matthew and Belinda Pocket, Startop, Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard, Mr. Creppock, Mrs. Wopsle, Mr. Barley, The Society of the Finches and Miss Skiffins are omitted.
- The convict who is Magwitch’s nemesis is not named in the film. It is revealed in the novel that he is Compyeson, the man who jilted Miss Havisham.
- Pip’s sister’s assault at the hands of Orlick is deleted; instead she dies of illness earlier than she does in the novel.
- Biddy is portrayed as being closer to Joe’s age than Pip’s, and Pip never intends to marry her as he does in the book.
- Drummle does not appear until after Estella arrives in London, and he does in fact marry her in the novel.
- In the novel, Miss Havisham’s immolation happens later, after Estella is married, and is not immediately fatal. She instead passes away during Pip’s illness.
- Estella’s true parentage is never revealed to her in the novel.
- John Mills as Pip as an adult
- Jean Simmons as Estella as a girl. Simmons later played Miss Havisham in a 1989 miniseries directed by Kevin Connor.
- Valerie Hobson as Estella as an adult
- Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham
- Finlay Currie as Abel Magwitch
- Francis L. Sullivan as Mr. Jaggers
- Bernard Miles as Joe Gargery
- Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket as an adult
- Anthony Wager as Pip as a boy
- John Forrest as Herbert Pocket as a boy
- Freda Jackson as Mrs. Joe Gargery
- Ivor Barnard as Mr. Wemmick
- Torin Thatcher as Bentley Drummle
- O. B. Clarence as The Aged Parent
The film won critical praise upon release, with many of them hailing it as the finest film yet made from a Dickens novel. In 1999, it came fifth in a BFI poll of the top 100 British films, while in 2004, Total Film named it the fourteenth greatest British film of all time.
Great Expectations won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (John Bryan, Wilfred Shingleton) and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and was nominated for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay.
- “Ronald Neame”. The Daily Telegraph. 18 June 2010.
- “NY Times: Great Expectations”. NY Times. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
The Great British Films, pp. 102–105, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 080650661XText quoted from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.