Great Expectations

UK 1946, 119 mins
Director: David Lean

Great Expectations was the first of David Lean’s two adaptations of Dickens classics (Oliver Twist followed in 1948). Lean realised the cinematic potential of the novel more skilfully than his predecessors and most of those that followed him. The result is one of the finest British literary adaptations, and one of the most acclaimed of all British films.

Lean brings Dickens’ words to life in a series of memorable set-pieces: Pip’s encounter with the convict Magwitch in the churchyard, beautifully foreshadowed by the grim and desolate establishing shots of the Kentish marshes; Pip’s first meeting with the eccentric Miss Havisham, and the macabre atmosphere in the offices of Mr Jaggers, the lawyer whose walls are decorated with the death masks of clients he has lost to the gallows.

John Mills, at 38 surprisingly old for the role, is excellent as Pip, although Martita Hunt steals the early scenes, playing Miss Havisham as an imposing if shabby figure, bedecked in crumbling lace and linen. Francis L. Sullivan as Jaggers gives a similarly powerful performance: his voice rolls and booms, and physically he towers over his servile assistant Wemmick (Ivor Barnard).

Talking of the adaptation process, Lean said, ‘choose what you want to do in the novel and do it proud. If necessary cut characters. Don’t keep every character, just take a sniff of each one.’ This somewhat cavalier attitude to classic literature is perhaps a wiser one than that of filmmakers who lack the courage to cut out marginal material. In Lean’s case it certainly didn’t detract from the audience’s enjoyment of what has come to be seen as quintessential ‘Dickensian’ cinema.

Typical of Lean’s careful choices is the retention of Wemmick’s Aged Parent: the character serves no real narrative purpose, but the very visual humour of the repeated nodding to the elderly, increasingly deaf ‘Aged P’ provides an amusing distraction, and preserves a piece of very Dickensian characterisation.

Lean successfully distils a long and complex novel, written in the first person, into a compelling visual narrative covering no more than two hours. In this film, perhaps more than in any other, he makes us care about the characters, and casts the kind of cinematic spell very few directors are capable of, bringing into play a powerful visual narrative that hints at big themes and elemental forces. Great Expectations offers a near perfect balance of human sentiment and visual grandeur.
David Parker, BFI Screenonline

A contemporary review
Adapted from Dickens’ most dramatic novel, this admirable film retains the main structure of the narrative about the orphan Pip, his unhappy childhood and his youth as a man about town.

The aim of David Lean, director and associate scriptwriter with Ronald Neame, has been to use the visual power of the cinema to make the many dramatic situations in the story vivid, to use the backgrounds of the Romney marshlands and the reconstruction of Dickens’ London to full advantage, and to give the persons retained in the film many sensitively conceived touches of character.

Scenes of surpassing strength are included in the first half-hour of the film, which contains some of the finest cinema yet made in Britain; this covers the story from Magwitch’s first meeting with Pip in the windy churchyard to his recapture by the soldiers at night. Pip’s terrifying journey back to the churchyard with food when the very cows looming up in the mist seem to accuse him of theft is remarkably effective. Other finely handled episodes include Pip’s first visit to Satis House, the death by fire of Miss Havisham, the return of Magwitch and the attempt by Pip to get him out of the country. But not all the film is tense and horrific: there are many scenes of delightful humour, such as the fight with the boy Herbert Pocket, who later becomes Pip’s friend and teaches him table manners, and the scenes with the cunning and masterful lawyer, Jaggers. Dickens’ excesses of sentiment are avoided in the true feeling with which such moments as the death of Magwitch are handled.

Among the major characters the film owes much to the sincerity of John Mills in the difficult, hesitant part of Pip grown-up, the precision and authority of Francis L. Sullivan’s performance as Jaggers, Finlay Currie’s excellent and horrific Magwitch, the sentiment of Bernard Miles as Joe Gargery, the gentle nervousness of Alec Guinness, a new actor to the screen, as Herbert Pocket, and the restrained, cunning madness of Martita Hunt’s portrayal of Miss Havisham. Nor should the small-scale performances be overlooked, especially those of Ivor Barnard as Wemmick, Freda Jackson as Mrs. Joe, O.B. Clarence as the Aged Parent and Hay Petrie as Uncle Pumblechook. The handling of the children, Anthony Wager and Jean Simmons, is careful, restrained and effective: in Jean Simmons there is an authority of style beyond her years. Great Expectations is a unique and reassuring British film.
Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1946

Director: David Lean
Production Companies: Cineguild, Independent Producers
Executive Producer: Anthony Havelock-Allan
Producer: Ronald Neame
Production Manager: Norman Spencer
2nd Unit Directors: Stanley Haynes, Roy Kellino
Assistant Director: George Pollock
Continuity: Margaret Sibley
Adapted for the Screen by: David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan
Based on the novel by: Charles Dickens
Director of Photography: Guy Green
Camera Operator: Nigel Huke
Editor: Jack Harris
Production Designer: John Bryan
Art Director: Wilfred Shingleton
Draughtsmen: T. Hopewell Ash, Bill Holmes
Costume Designer: Sophia Harris of Motley
Music Composed/Conducted by: Walter Goehr
With: The National Symphony Orchestra
Dances Arranged by: Suria Magito
Sound Recording: Stanley Lambourne, Gordon K. McCallum
Sound Editor: Winston Ryder
Studio: Denham Studios

Location Manager: John Alderson
2nd Assistant Director: Philip Shipway
3rd Assistant Director: Chick Simpson
2nd Unit 1st Assistant Director: Victor Wark
2nd Unit Continuity: Yvonne Axworthy
Adapted for the Screen With: Kay Walsh, Cecil McGivern
Director of Photography - Started: Robert Krasker
2nd Unit Director of Photography: Ernest Steward
2nd Unit Camera Operator: Arthur Ibbetson
2nd Camera Operator: Skeets Kelly
2nd Unit 2nd Camera Operator: Alan Hume
Focus Puller: John Howard Godar
Clapper/Loaders: Henry Slagter, Tony Hermes
Stills: Cyril Stanborough
Back Projection: Sid Howell
Models: Douglas Woolsey
Assistant Editor: Marjorie Saunders
2nd Assistant Editor: John Cook
Assistant Art Director: John Elphick
Production Buyer: Frank Hobbs
Costume Designer Assisted by: Margaret Furse
Make-up: Ernie Gasser
Production Mixers: C.C. Stevens, John Dennis
Music Sound Camera: Peter T. Davies
Sound Camera Operators: Fred Goodes, Harold Rowland
Boom Operator: George Paternoster
Boom Assistant: Mick Stolovich
Maintenance Engineers: Jack Rossiter, Charles Knott
Dubbing Crew: J.B. Smith, Bill Daniels, John Hood
Assistant Sound Editor: Jack Slade
Sound Effects Recording: John W. Mitchell
Studio: Pinewood Studios

John Mills (Philip Pirrip, ‘Pip’)
Anthony Wager (Pip as a boy)
Valerie Hobson (Estella)
Jean Simmons (Estella as a girl)
Bernard Miles (Joe Gargery)
Francis L. Sullivan (Mr Jaggers)
Finlay Currie (Abel Magwitch)
Martita Hunt (Miss Havisham)
Alec Guinness (Herbert Pocket)
Ivor Barnard (Mr Wemmick)
Freda Jackson (Mrs Joe Gargery)
Eileen Erskine (Biddy)
George Hayes (Compeyson, the convict)
Hay Petrie (Uncle Pomblechook)
John Forrest (pale young gentleman)
Torin Thatcher (Bentley Drummle)
O.B. Clarence (aged parent)
John Burch (Mr Wopsle)
Richard George (The Sergeant)
Grace Denbeigh-Russell (Mrs Wopsle)
Everley Gregg (Sarah Pocket)
Anne Holland (relation)
Frank Atkinson (Mike)
Gordon Begg (night porter)
Edie Martin (Mrs Whimple)
Walford Hyden (the dancing master)
Roy Arthur (galley steersman)

UK 1946
119 mins
Digital (restoration)

The screening on Wed 17 Apr will be introduced by Jade Evans, AHRC REACH PhD student with QMUL and BFI

The Trial
Mon 25 Mar 12:20; Mon 8 Apr 12:20; Thu 18 Apr 17:25
The Gospel According to Matthew Il Vangelo secondo Matteo
Tue 26 Mar 20:20; Fri 29 Mar 17:50
Wed 27 Mar 18:15 (+ intro by Arike Oke, Executive Director of Knowledge, Learning & Collections); Sat 6 Apr 13:15; Fri 12 Apr 21:00
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Thu 28 Mar 18:10; Sun 7 Apr 12:50; Tue 23 Apr 12:00
Little Women
Sat 30 Mar 13:15; Tue 9 Apr 12:20; Sat 27 Apr 20:30
The Last Temptation of Christ
Sat 30 Mar 19:50; Sun 14 Apr 17:30
The Leopard Il gattopardo
Sun 31 Mar 17:00; Tue 16 Apr 13:30; Sun 28 Apr 19:30
The Grapes of Wrath
Mon 1 Apr 20:10; Sat 20 Apr 15:45
Pather Panchali
Tue 2 Apr 20:30; Mon 22 Apr 18:00; Tue 30 Apr 12:10
The Heiress
Wed 3 Apr 18:05 (+ intro by Ruby McGuigan, BFI Programme and Acquisitions); Sat 6 Apr 20:30; Mon 15 Apr 20:45
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Thu 4 Apr 20:30; Wed 10 Apr 18:10 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large)
The Last of the Mohicans
Fri 5 Apr 18:10; Sun 21 Apr 20:20
Women in Love
Thu 11 Apr 20:20; Sat 20 Apr 13:00; Fri 26 Apr 14:40
Beau Travail
Sat 13 Apr 13:20; Fri 19 Apr 20:45; Wed 24 Apr 18:10 (+ intro)
Great Expectations
Wed 17 Apr 17:45 (+ intro by Jade Evans, AHRC REACH PhD student with QMUL and BFI); Thu 25 Apr 12:00
Ordet The Word
Sat 27 Apr 13:15; Mon 29 Apr 14:40
Wed 1 May 18:10 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator); Fri 3 May 21:00; Tue 14 May 12:30; Sun 26 May 13:00
Henry V
Thu 2 May 14:40; Thu 9 May 20:15; Thu 30 May 14:30
The Magic Flute Trollflöjten
Fri 3 May 12:00; Fri 24 May 20:25; Tue 28 May 14:30
Pandora’s Box Die Büchse der Pandora
Sat 4 May 15:10; Fri 17 May 18:00; Sat 25 May 13:10; Fri 31 May 14:30
West Side Story
Sun 5 May 19:30; Thu 16 May 14:30
Mon 6 May 20:20; Sat 11 May 14:45; Tue 21 May 14:30
A Streetcar Named Desire
Tue 7 May 12:10; Sat 18 May 20:30; Fri 24 May 14:50; Sun 26 May 17:40
Wed 8 May 18:10 (+ intro); Sun 12 May 20:40; Mon 27 May 12:30
His Girl Friday
Fri 10 May 18:10; Sun 19 May 20:30; Thu 23 May 18:30; Wed 29 May 18:00 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large)
Beautiful Thing
Mon 13 May 20:40; Wed 22 May 18:20 (+ intro by Simon McCallum, BFI National Archive Curator); Thu 30 May 12:10
Bluebeard’s Castle Herzog Blaubarts Burg
Wed 15 May 18:10 (+ intro by Alex Prideaux, Marketing and Events Manager – Our Screen Heritage); Fri 31 May 18:10
Mon 20 May 18:05; Thu 30 May 20:30

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