Great Expectations (1946 film)

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Great Expectations
Great expectations.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Lean
Written byDavid Lean
Anthony Havelock-Allan
Ronald Neame
Based onGreat Expectations
by Charles Dickens
Produced byAnthony Havelock-Allan
Ronald Neame
StarringJohn Mills
Valerie Hobson
Bernard Miles
Francis L. Sullivan
Anthony Wager
Jean Simmons
CinematographyGuy Green, (Robert Krasker shot opening sequence)[1]
Edited byJack Harris
Music byWalter Goehr
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors Ltd.
Release date
  • 26 December 1946 (1946-12-26)
Running time
118 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$2 million (US rentals)[3]

Great Expectations is a 1946 British drama film directed by David Lean, based on the 1861 novel by Charles Dickens and starring John Mills and Valerie Hobson. The supporting cast included Bernard Miles, Francis L. Sullivan, Anthony Wager, Jean Simmons, Finlay Currie, Martita Hunt and Alec Guinness. John Bryan and Wilfred Shingleton won the Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, while Guy Green won for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White. Lean was nominated for Best Director, Lean, Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan for Best Screenplay and the film for Best Picture.

The script, a slimmed-down version of Dickens' novel – inspired after David Lean witnessed an abridged 1939 stage version of the novel,[4] in which Guinness (responsible for the adaptation) had played Herbert Pocket, and Martita Hunt was Miss Havisham – was written by David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame and Kay Walsh. Guinness and Hunt reprised their roles in the film, but it was not a strict adaptation of the stage version. The film was produced by Ronald Neame and photographed by Guy Green.[5] It was the first of two films Lean directed based on Dickens' novels, the other being his 1948 adaptation of Oliver Twist.

The film is now regarded as one of Lean's best; in 1999, on the British Film Institute's Top 100 British films list, Great Expectations was named the 5th greatest British film of all time.


Orphan Phillip "Pip" Pirrip lives with his shrewish older sister and her kindhearted blacksmith husband, Joe Gargery. While visiting his parents' graves alone, Pip encounters an escaped convict, Abel Magwitch, who intimidates the boy into returning the next day with blacksmith's tools to remove his chains. Pip also brings some food. Famished, Magwitch devours the food and thanks him. Magwitch is caught when he attacks a hated fellow escapee rather than fleeing.

Miss Havisham, a rich, eccentric spinster, arranges to have Pip come to her mansion regularly to provide her with company and to play with her adopted daughter, beautiful but cruel teenager Estella. Estella mocks Pip's coarse manners at every opportunity, but Pip quickly falls in love with her. He also meets a boy, Herbert Pocket, whom he bests in an impromptu boxing match. The visits come to an end when Pip turns 14 and begins his apprenticeship as a blacksmith. Estella also leaves, for France, to learn the ways of a lady.

Six years later, Miss Havisham's lawyer Mr Jaggers visits Pip to tell him a mysterious benefactor has offered to transform him into a gentleman with "great expectations"; Pip assumes it is Miss Havisham. He is taken to London and stays with Herbert Pocket, who is to teach him how to behave like a gentleman. From Herbert, Pip learns that Miss Havisham was left at the altar many years ago and that she is determined to avenge herself against men, with Estella as her instrument to break men's hearts.

When Pip turns 21, Joe Gargery brings a request from Miss Havisham to visit her. There Pip is reunited with Estella, who tells him, "You must know, Pip, I have no heart." She confesses to Pip that, despite flirting with the wealthy but unpopular Bentley Drummle, she has absolutely no feelings for him.

Back in London, Pip receives an unexpected visitor: Magwitch, who escaped from prison again and made a fortune sheep-farming in New South Wales. Magwitch reveals that he is Pip's benefactor, and that he was so touched by Pip's kindness, he resolved to prosper so Pip could live a gentleman's life. He tells the "dear boy" that he considers him his son.

Growing suspicious of Drummle's overtures towards Estella, Pip visits Estella. She tells him she is going to marry Drummle. Pip confronts Miss Havisham, saying, "I am as unhappy as you could have ever meant me to be." Miss Havisham begs his forgiveness. Pip leaves, but when she stands to follow him, a piece of flaming wood from the fireplace rolls out and ignites her dress. Her screams alert Pip, who runs back to save her, but fails.

After being warned that an old enemy has learned that Magwitch is in London, Pip and Herbert plot to smuggle the old man onto a packet ship leaving England, on which Pip is to accompany him. They row out to the ship, but are intercepted by waiting police, tipped off by Magwitch's old enemy. Magwitch is injured in a struggle, but his nemesis is pushed down to his death by the ship's paddlewheels. Magwitch is captured and sentenced to death.

Magwitch had spoken to Pip of his lost daughter, and Pip's suspicion that she is Estella is confirmed by Jaggers. Pip visits Magwitch, now dying in prison, and tells him of her fate and that he, Pip, is in love with her. Magwitch dies a contented man.

Stricken by illness and with his expectations gone, Pip is taken home and nursed back to health by Joe Gargery. He revisits Miss Havisham's deserted house, where he finds Estella. Drummle broke off their engagement when Jaggers informed him of her parentage. Learning that Estella plans to live in seclusion in the house, which she has inherited, Pip tears down the curtains and opens the boarded-up windows. Sunlight reveals cobwebs, dust and decay. Pip tells Estella that he has never stopped loving her. After hesitating, she embraces him and they leave the house together.



Restoration House in Rochester was Dickens' inspiration for "Satis House", the decaying mansion of Miss Havisham. The production reproduced Restoration House in Denham Film Studios in Buckinghamshire.[citation needed]

Dickens based Joe Gargery's house on the forge in the village of Chalk, near Gravesend, Kent – a replica was erected on St Mary's Marshes on the Thames Estuary.[4]: 212  Pip and Herbert Pocket arrange to meet Magwitch and help him escape at Chatham Docks where slip 8 was used for the scene as well as exterior shots of the prison hulk ships.[citation needed] The River Medway and the adjacent St Mary's Marshes appear in scenes where Pip and his friend, Herbert Pocket, row their boat to a small inn whilst waiting for the paddle steamer to arrive. The ship used in the film was called Empress, dating from the latter half of the nineteenth century and owned by Cosens & Co Ltd of Weymouth. She was brought down to the River Medway for the shoot.[6] "New masts were stepped-in with square rigging and dummy sails, the funnel was lengthened and the paddle-boxes enlarged until it looked exactly right."[4]: 224 

The company was based at Rochester, and stayed for six weeks at the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel – the Blue Boar in Dickens' novel. The unit for the location work for the film was based on a derelict naval fort on Darnett Ness Island in the River Medway.[7]

Development of the script[edit]

The script is a slimmed-down version of Dickens' novel. It was inspired after David Lean witnessed an abridged 1939 stage version of the novel,[4] by Alec Guinness. Guinness had played Herbert Pocket, and Martita Hunt was Miss Havisham in the stage version of 1939. The script for the film was written by David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame and Kay Walsh.

David Lean approached Clemence Dane to write the script, but considered what she wrote "so awful [-] It was hideously embarrassing" – that he decided he and Ronald Neame should write their own versions. In January 1945 they went to the Ferry Boat Inn at Fowey in Cornwall and wrote a continuity. When Lean worked on Brief Encounter Neame worked on the script with Havelock-Allan, and later with Cecil McGivern. Kay Walsh was another writer given a screen credit and wrote the ending.

Production notes[edit]

Alec Guinness admired the way Lean directed him, singling out a close-up in which he had to laugh out loud, and which he struggled to make look un-manufactured. Lean told him to forget about the whole thing, sat by his side, and made a little signal to the camera to start turning in the course of the conversation. He said something which made Guinness laugh and then said, "Cut". Guinness: "So he got this shot on a totally false premise... but thank God. I don't think I would have ever achieved it otherwise". Valerie Hobson however called the experience of working with Lean on the film "the unhappiest" and called him "a cold director – he gave me nothing at all as an actress".[4]: 207, 219 

At the end of the film, a shot of Valerie Hobson staring into a mirror was taking longer than anticipated and was suspended – it was lunchtime – and returned to in the afternoon. Later, some three months after the film had been on exhibition, a cinema-goer asked what was meant by a Chad being reflected in the mirror. It seems that a worker on the film had drawn it on the wall during the break in filming, and it is dimly visible in the final scene behind John Mills' shoulder as he says "I've never ceased to love you when there seemed no hope in my love".[4]: 220 

The musical score is credited to Walter Goehr, known primarily as a conductor, but significant portions were actually written by Kenneth Pakeman.



The film won critical praise on first release, with many commentators hailing it as the finest film yet made from a Dickens novel. Dilys Powell, writing for The Sunday Times, was "grateful for cinema which includes so much of Dickens, which constructs its narrative from the original material with scarcely an intrusion" and Richard Winnington, in the News Chronicle, wrote that "Dickens has never before been rendered effectively into cinema terms". Gavin Lambert however, writing for the short-lived, but influential Sequence magazine, felt "that it is not so much an attempt to recreate Dickens on the screen, as a very graceful evasion of most of the issues". In America James Agee praised the film – "almost never less than graceful, tasteful and intelligent".[8]

A 1999 review in the US by Roger Ebert noted the film as "the greatest of all the Dickens films" and added that "The movie was made by Lean at the top of his early form".[9]

Box office[edit]

It was also the third most popular film at the British box office in 1947[10] and most popular movie at the Canadian box office in 1948.[11][12] According to Kinematograph Weekly the 'biggest winner' at the box office in 1947 Britain was The Courtneys of Curzon Street, with "runners up" being The Jolson Story, Great Expectations, Odd Man Out, Frieda, Holiday Camp and Duel in the Sun.[13]

The film's critical status has generally stayed high. Kevin Brownlow, a biographer of Lean, wrote that "Dickens' brilliance at creating characters was matched by Cineguild's choice of actors", and Alain Silver and James Ursini have drawn attention to the film's "overall narrative subjectivity", finding Lean "more than faithful to the original's first person style".[14]

In 1999, it came fifth in a BFI poll of the top 100 British films, while in 2004, Total Film named it the fourteenth greatest British film of all time. It was the first British film to win an Oscar for its cinematography.


John Bryan (Art Direction) and Wilfred Shingleton (Set Direction) won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Black-and-White, while Guy Green won for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White in 1948. Lean was nominated for Best Director, Lean, Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan for Best Screenplay and the film for Best Picture.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ American Cinematographer, March 2000, p.136
  2. ^ McFarlane, Brian (1997). Autobiography of British Cinema. Metheun Publishing. p. 432. ISBN 978-0413705204.
  3. ^ "Top Grossers of 1947", Variety, 7 January 1948 p 63
  4. ^ a b c d e f Brownlow, Kevin (1996). David Lean: A Biography. St Martin's Press. p. 206. ISBN 978-0312145781.
  5. ^ "Obituaries: Ronald Neame". The Daily Telegraph. 18 June 2010.
  6. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office Great Expectations Film Focus".
  7. ^ Picturegoer, 14 September 1946
  8. ^ McFarlane, Brian (26 September 2014). Screen Adaptations: Great Expectations: A close study of the relationship between text and film. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 166–172. ISBN 978-1-4081-4902-7.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (22 August 1999). "Great Movie: Great Expectations". Roger Ebert Reviews. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  10. ^ "Anna Neagle Most Popular Actress". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 3 January 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
  11. ^ "FILM NEWS". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. 11 June 1949. p. 14. Retrieved 4 March 2013.
  12. ^ Thumim, Janet. "The popular cash and culture in the postwar British cinema industry". Screen. Vol. 32 no. 3. p. 258.
  13. ^ Lant, Antonia (1991). Blackout : reinventing women for wartime British cinema. Princeton University Press. p. 232.
  14. ^ Silver, Alain; Ursini, James (1992). David Lean and His films. Silman-James Press. ISBN 978-1879505001.
  15. ^ "The 20th Academy Awards | 1948". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Further reading[edit]

  • Vermilye, Jerry (1978), The Great British Films, Citadel Press, pp. 102–105, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X

External links[edit]