As someone who has never read the Charles Dickens classic, I came into watching this movie with very little to go on and a very open mind.
I liked how the story came full circle as Pip realized who had been his sponsor. Magwitch, an escaped convict, encounters Pip in a graveyard at the beginning of the film. Pip gives him food and a file for his chains. He eventually moves to London at the request of an anonymous sponsor who pays for his education and living expenses. Realizing it was Magwitch was a nice surprise, especially in light of how creepy Miss Havisham had been at the beginning of the film. It’s nice to see how the kindness to a stranger can have a drastic effect on one’s fortunes.
While Great Expectations was filmed before color had become commonplace, I find that the use of black and white helped, as this story is fairly dark. I was also impressed with the lighting as teenage Estella and Pip walked through Havisham’s house. The candlelight used seemed fairly close to what it would have actually been.
This film showcased a number of great actors. John Mills (In Which We Serve, War and Peace, Swiss Family Robinson) as the grown up Pip is a delight to watch develop and unfold as the movie progressed. Alec Guinness goes without saying as the adult Herbet Pocket. It was about midway through the film when I realized who he was. Most in my generation would identify Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, something Guinness had said he despised. It’s nice to see him in his first major part on-screen, his talent and diversity as an actor is admirable, even when he has a minor part like here. The only problem I had with these actors is the significant age difference between them and the characters they were playing. Each was supposed to be 20 to 21, but there is a drastic difference between Pip and Herbet and Mills and Guinness.
Martita Hunt does a convincing job as Miss Havisham. You can tell the bitterness and betrayal in how she carries, or sits in this case, herself. She comes as close to a villain as can be in this story. Jean Simmons as the young Estella was more entertaining to watch than Valerie Hobson, though both do a great job at bringing their characters to life.
The person that I enjoyed probably more than any other was Finlay Currie as Magwitch. To see the change in his character from convicted criminal to wealthy benefactor and father searching for his daughter provides many mediums to showcase his talent.
It was nice to see redemption in the end. As light illuminates, Pip removing the curtains to reveal to Estella the cobwebs and decay that had grown over the years at Miss Havisham’s house and the prison that Estella was going to be in if she followed the ways of her adoptive mother. A brief look at the plot of the book showed me that this was not how it ended, and that Pip and Estella never ended up together. That’s a Hollywood ending I suppose, but it works, and the viewer is left with a bit of a cliff-hanger. Estella embraces Pip, but it is left to the imagination of the viewer as to what happens next. Do they marry, remain friends, or part company with someone else? It can be fun to hypothesize where the story goes.
This is one that I’d watch again, but it would have to be in the right circumstances. Also if I ever get around to reading Great Expectations, that will give me a good reason for a re-viewing. Though many films have tried, David Lean’s Great Expectations remains the standard-bearer for this Charles Dickens classic.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars