Friday, December 11, 2015

David Lean's Great Expectations (1946)

Great Expectations: adapted from the Charles Dickens novel by David Leane, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Kay Walsh, and Cecil McGivern; directed by David Lean; starring John Mills (Pip), Tony Wager (Young Pip), Valerie Hobson (Estella), Jean Simmons (Young Estella), Bernard Miles (Joe), Finlay Currie (Magwitch), Alec Guinness (Herbert Pocket), Martita Hunt (Miss Havisham), Ivor Barnard (Wemmick), and Francis L. Sullivan (Jaggers) (1946):

Excellent adaptation of the Dickens novel skimps a bit on the middle sections in order to concentrate on the exciting parts at the beginning and ending of the source text. It also makes an ending even happier than the one Dickens tacked on after people were disappointed with his original downbeat ending. So it goes. 

This is the much looser and warmer David Lean of the 1940's and early 1950's, before his desire to film epics caused him to calcify. The performances are all top-notch, especially those of a young Alec Guinness as Pip's friend Herbert Pocket and Francis Sullivan as the fascinating, ambivalent Jaggers. Joe is a humble, comic charmer, while John Mills does nice work as Pip, though the movie's compression of the middle section omits quite a bit of Pip's unsympathetic, snobbish period prior to the revelation of just who has been funding Pip's gentlemanly lifestyle.

The set design, cinematography, and direction heighten the Gothic elements of the novel when we're searching the marshes for escaped convicts or lingering in the decayed and sinister dining room of Miss Havisham. Otherwise, Lean alternates between the bustle of high society and the homey touches of Pip's childhood home in the English marshes.

Estella's adult character comes across as quite a bit warmer than that in the novel, setting up that revised ending. This may simply be the result of an actress who herself is too warm a presence for the role, though the ending perhaps makes this warmth a necessary part of the character development: this Estella hasn't entirely been emotionally neutered by the malignly self-pitying Miss Havisham. Highly recommended.

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