Review: Great Expectations (1946)


Charles Dickens’ classic brought to life!

Adaptation By: Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame & Kay Walsh
Directed By: David Lean

The idea of emerging into adulthood has proven to be fertile territory for the film medium. Great Expectations is possibly the best example of emergence into adulthood that film has to offer. Adapted from the novel by Charles Dickens, Great Expectations is a character study of Pip, a poor boy destined for greater things. The moment when Great Expectations grabbed me occurred when older Pip made note of the arrival of his perennial father figure Joe. Everyone in the movie wants to push Pip towards being a gentleman, but the truth is he was a gentleman from the start. He may not have known how to properly eat his meal, but what makes a man a man was always present in Pip. As Pip inner monologues about the arrival of Joe he realizes this and he also realizes that in his attempt to become more of a gentleman he is losing focus of what it takes to be a decent human being. Moments like that transcend the film and they transcend the medium. They get right to the heart of the human condition, and they allow us to see that decency doesn’t come with money or a “proper” upbringing, it comes with the simple act of being human.

None of the above would have been possible without the earnest performances of every actor in Great Expectations. There isn’t a moment where they lose sight of what the film is about or take a misstep. Old Pip is just as full of eagerness to be a good person as young Pip was. Old Estella is full of fear and hatred for all that was done to her adoptive mother, waiting for that one moment when someone will break her out of her spell. Mr. Jaggers is perfectly bombastic and at the same time available as the man who is the main impetus behind most of the plot. Bernard Miles is the heart and soul of the film as the always self-effacing Joe Gargery. His actions allow Pip to realize that he is a decent human being that is worth something when he is a boy and later in life they allow Pip to realize he has fallen from the path towards being a decent human being and a man. There isn’t a weak spot in the entire cast and because of the various performances in Great Expectations it is able to maintain a lofty level of excellence from the first reel to the last.

Great Expectations is a film that snuck up on me and I don’t believe it gets its just due. Whenever the film community turns to the inevitable task of labeling the greatest this or that, the top 100 this and the top 50 that, Great Expectations isn’t a film I oft see championed. That is why it took me so long to stumble across it, I had never heard a single thing about it or why I should see it. Well, I have seen it and I am happy that I did. Even if I am only one of a small minority championing this movie for the transcendent experience that it is, I’m alright with that. Because if only a few have been touched by this great movie then that is better than none at all.



Bill Thompson

8 responses to “Review: Great Expectations (1946)

  1. Anarya Andir

    This film is absolutely beautiful. David Lean is one of my favourite directors and though I had watched epics like Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai and A Passage to India before this, I could only conclude that Lean is every bit as awesome as he is considered to be. There’s emotion, beauty and so much heart in this film. All the actors are so perfect. Who can forget that scene with Miss Havisham in her wedding dress when Pip enters. Just iconic.
    Having heart makes this film great. It had me crying actually.
    Thanks for the great post on this great film. And thanks for mentioning that it never features on best film lists, which is a complete pity.

  2. Yeah, Great Expectations is a forgotten classic of Lean’s. I’m not sure why, well actually I’m pretty sure it’s because most people prefer his more epic work. I’m of a different mind, I respect his epic work, but I much prefer his smaller and more compact films.

  3. Anarya Andir

    I love both his epics as well as his smaller films. You mustve watched Brief Encounter right?

  4. Indeed, I did, wrote a capsule review of it in one of the This Week In Cinema features. I liked that one, but I wasn’t a huge fan of that film. The moralizing of the film didn’t sit well with me.

  5. Anarya Andir

    I can understand your thoughts about the content of Brief Encounter. But I thought the film itself was well made

  6. Most definitely well made, no problems on that end.

  7. Britney Hernandez

    Did you read the book? And if you did, did the movie follow along with the plot line?

  8. It’s been so long since I read the book that I can’t answer your question completely. However, from my recollections, yes, the movie was very faithful to the book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s