March 27, 2021
Great Expectations (1946)
Grade: 75/100

Director: David Lean
Stars: John Mills, Bernard Miles, Francis L. Sullivan

What it's about. The classic Charles Dickens novel "Great Expectations" gets the David Lean treatment. Made shortly after the end of World War II, the novel is set in early 19th century England. Our hero is Pip (Tony Wager), an orphan boy raised by kindly blacksmith Joe (Bernard Miles) and his ill-tempered wife (Freda Jackson).

One night, Pip meets escaped convict Magwitch (Finlay Currie) and, out of fear, aids the convict. Shortly later, Pip is employed by Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), a middle-aged spinster who hasn't left her mansion in many years. She is nonetheless the guardian of Estella, a predictably beautiful teenaged girl (Jean Simmons). Pip nurses a crush on Estella but his love isn't returned.

Because it is a movie, a mysterious benefactor, presumed to be Miss Havisham, pays for the now-grown Pip (John Mills) to escape a working class life as a blacksmith, and become an idle gentleman. He becomes friends with Mr. Pocket (Alec Guinness, in a very early film role).

He is reacquainted with Stella (now played by Valerie Hobson), and still pines for her, though she becomes engaged to another. Pip's benefactor pays him a visit, and turns out to be not Miss Havisham, but Magwitch, who is still wanted by the law. Pip drops everything to try to escape England with Magwitch for the latter's safety. Pip fails in this, and has lost his income as well, but at least he has Stella, who has been jilted by her fiancé.

How others will see it. Long established as a leading film editor, David Lean had recently become an acclaimed director as well, courtesy of Brief Encounter (1945). Great Expectations was about as successful, winning Oscars for its cinematography and art design, and nominated in the prestigious categories of Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

Great Expectations was a box office smash in both England and Canada. It remains highly regarded today. At, it has a high user vote total of 22K and a fairly high user rating of 7.8 out of 10. Those over 45 grade it even higher, at 8.1. The user reviews are heaped in applause for David Lean and his abridged interpretation of the Dickens classic.

How I felt about it. I have a few questions. Why should Mr. Pocket spent countless hours rowing with Pip, and risk becoming an accessory to the crimes of an escaped convict, just because he is Pip's friend? Why couldn't they cast somebody younger than John Mills, who was 38, when his character of Pip was in his early 20s?

Why wouldn't British law assume that Pip murdered Miss Havisham by setting her on fire? They were alone together in the house, and she had never set herself on fire before. Certainly, he would be arrested and interrogated.

The story takes an increasingly unlikely turn when it is revealed that the convict is Pip's benefactor, and Pip decides to devote his present and future life to the protection and well being of said convict. Also, it is convenient (especially for the blacksmith Joe) for shrewish Freda Jackson to be killed off and immediately replaced by her polar opposite, Eileen Erskine.

But I do like the casting for several characters, especially Jean Simmons, Bernard Miles, Francis L. Sullivan, Finlay Currie, Tony Wager, and Martita Hunt. I like the stark black and white photography by Guy Green, and the screenplay with many hands adapting the Charles Dickens prose. Best of all is the direction, which is so solid that one can overlook the various plot holes.