Great Expectations - The Movie (1946)

Great Expectations is for me, one of Dickens' best. It is not what you might call an easy read, but it rewards patience and cooperation in the reader. It is always a double-edged sword when you come to read the movie adaptation of a book like this. Sometimes, they disappoint, as if the author had planted a literary bomb or some other kind of sabotage device to make it impossible to adapt satisfactorily. I am sure all of us can think of travesties, and yet, David Lean's film of the book is not a travesty, it is a triumph.

The script is written with humour and economy. The actors, all of them, are given plenty of opportunity to act, and though occasionally they overdo it for today's tastes, they are such good players that it matters not. Of course, it is mostly all fluff. Finlay Curry, as Magwitch cannot disguise his sonorous cultured voice, and is not scary at all. Francis L Sullivan is remarkable as Jaggers, and possibly the most believable of all the characters. Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham is far too beautiful, with a noble soul beaming from her face and yet, her portrayal of an embittered old maid, living in the past is an anchor in the pretense that this is all real. Valerie Hobson is a worthy progeny; as Estella, too aware of her own human failings, yet too proud to accept Pip as a suitor. John Mills is a competant Pip. I would put it no higher than that. I think, in the end, the weight of carrying the lead was too much. He seems to be eclipsed in every scene, especially in a two hander with Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket. Mills never really excelled in male leads, and was never edgy enough for my liking, and was always better as a second or third, or a character part, and indeed, his only Oscar was "Best Actor in a supporting role" for Ryan's Daughter, another Lean film.

My real life touched a little on this, and still does in one small way. My step-uncle was a key worker with David Lean, with an association spanning two decades. I interviewed Valerie Hobson once at one of her many charity events and in my small collection of autographed photos, there sits Johnny Mills, complete with absurd dicky bow, which rather sums him up.

The film stands up today despite its age. Worth a look just to remember how films once relied on character and plot, rather than special effects and celebrities.


Mick Anderson said...

I had already read the book before I saw the film. It enhanced many of the pictures I had conjured up in my imagination while reading, and enjoyed the film all the more for it.

Always preferred the Lean versions of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, but (with the exception of Brief Encounter) was not so keen on his collaborations with Noel Coward. Blythe Spirit and This Happy Breed are just not quite in the same class for me.

As for John Mills, I see what you mean about the supporting actor thing. Hobson's Choice is carried further by Charles Laughton and Brenda de Banzie than by his comic turn.

Jim Baxter said...
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Jim Baxter said...

Ah yes. Charles 'Tricky Dick' Dickens. 'The Pentagon Papers'. Most memorable. You can get them on tape now you know.