Great Expectations (1947): David Lean’s Superb, Oscar Winning Version of Dickens

Universal International (Arthur Rank-Cineguild Production)

One of the best adaptations of a Charles Dickens’ novel, David Lean’s “Great Expectations” is a masterful rendition, boasting great acting and production values (see below). Some film critics consider “Great Expectations” to bet the jewel in David Lean’s crown-one of his two or three best works.

Set in 1830, the tale centers on the journey of orphan Pip Pirrip (Wager as a child, John Mills as an adult) from modest beginnings as blacksmith’s apprentice all the way to becoming a wealthy beneficiary of an escaped convict (Finlay Currie) he had once helped.

Wonderfully directed by Lean, especially the childhood sequences, the whole movie is marked by indelible images and colorful characters. Though largely faithful in tone and spirit, this version omits by necessity some of the novel’s figures.

Surprisingly, none of the actors in the gifted ensemble, including John Mills and Alec Guinness who would become regulars in Lean’s future films, were cited with Oscar nominations. Half a century after it was made, “Great Expectations” still stands out amidst numerous remakes both for the small and the big screen.

Cast

Pip Pirrip (John Mills)
Estella/Estella’s Mother (Valerie Hobson)
Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles)
Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan)
Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt)
Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie)
Pip as Boy (Anthony Wager)
Estella as Girl (Jean Simmons)
Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness)
Wemmick (Ivor Barnard)

Credits

Running time: 118 Minutes Produced by Ronald Neame Directed by David Lean Screenplay: David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan

Oscar Nominations: 5

Picture, produced by Ronald Neame Director: David Lean Screenplay: David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan Cinematography (B/W): Guy Green Art Direction-Set Decoration (B/W): John Bryan, Wilfred Shingleton

Oscar Awards: 2

Cinematography

Art Direction-Set Decoration

Oscar Context

“Great Expectations” vied for the Best Picture Oscar with “Crossfire,” Edward Dmytryk’s noir drama about anti-Semitism in the military, which lost in each of its five nominated categories, and another anti-Semitism drama, Kazan’s “Gentleman’s Agreement,” which won Best Picture and other awards. The other nominees represented lighter fare: “The Bishop’s Wife,” with an all-star cast headed by Cary Grant, and the Christmas tale, “The Miracle on 34th Street,” with Edmund Gwenn and the young Natalie Wood.