Focus On Film: Great Expectations (1946)

Following on from the success of their Focus On Film: Science Fiction course, Dundee Contemporary Arts have once again teamed up with the University Of Dundee for a new run of eight discussions, this time exploring cinematic adaptations with returning academics Dr. Brian Hoyle and Dr. Chris Murray. Running from January 20th to March 10th, things got underway with director  David Lean’s 1946 take on Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Great ExpectationsAn orphan in the care of his sister and her blacksmith husband, Phillip “Pip” Pirrip (Anthony Wager) is out walking one day when he runs into an escaped convict called Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie). After being intimidated into stealing food for the felon, Pip later witnesses the man’s capture at the hands of the authorities. Around the same time, he finds himself in the employ of jilted bride Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) where he develops feelings for a young girl called Estella (Jean Simmons). Six years later, Pip (John Mills) is told that a mysterious benefactor has arranged for him to travel to London where he is to become a gentleman.

Inspired almost as much by the recent (circa 1946) stage version as the literary classic itself, the film reunites Alec Guinness and Martita Hunt with their roles from the aforementioned play. The performances overall are strong throughout (even if Mills doesn’t quite convince as a young man), with Hunt giving what was to be seen by many as the definitive take on Miss Havisham, while the screenplay does a great job of abridging the story and pruning Dickens’ numerous extraneous subplots.

Watching Lean’s Great Expectations is undeniably a cinematic experience, however, with Guy Green’s cinematography and Walter Goehr’s score (and the impeccable sound design in general) giving the film the extra dimensions necessary to distinguish it from the novel and the play. The opening sequence, in which Pip first encounters Abel Magwitch, is wonderfully atmospheric as the graveyard’s creaking trees reach out to almost stroke the screen and our hero is forced to flee along a road marked with decidedly gallows-like posts.

The finale is well handled too, to the point that — had you never read the source novel — you’d assume it was in fact the story’s natural conclusion. Diverging from the original narrative around the point that Pip discovers the true identity of  his sponsor, the film reinterprets a number of key events to make them more visually exciting to a cinema audience. Even today there is an undeniable tension to the final confrontations, while Lean’s chosen ending provides an emotional pay-off that is perhaps lacking in other, more faithful iterations.

But the question remains: is it a successful adaptation? Only one week into the course it is difficult to say, but definitive or not, it is undoubtedly an assured and beautifully realised interpretation of the Great Expectations story.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Focus On Film: Great Expectations (1946)

  1. Pingback: February 2013 – Snitches end up in ditches! | popcornaddict

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