GREAT EXPECTATIONS [1946 / 2008] [Blu-ray] Great Adventure! Great Romance! Great Thrills!
Sir David Lean’s spellbinding screen translation effectively captures the spirit of Charles Dickens’ literary masterpiece. It tells the story of your Pip [Sir John Mills] who experiences two distinctly different encounters with the escaped convict Abel Magwitch [Finlay Currie] and the eccentric Miss Havisham [Martita Hunt]. With life of hard grind in a blacksmith’s looking the most likely prospect, Pip’s fortunes change dramatically when the generosity of a mysterious benefactor propels him to London to begin his journey towards becoming a gentleman with “great expectations.”
With a superb cast that includes Valerie Hobson as the icy Estella and Sir Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket, director Sir David Lean recreates beautifully the essence of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of a young man trying to establish himself in the world.
FILM FACT: Awards and Nominations: Academy Awards®: Win: Best Art Direction and Set Decoration in Black-and-White for John Bryan and Wilfred Shingleton. Win: Cinematography in Black-and-White for Guy Green and Robert Krasker. Nominated: Best Director for Sir David Lean. Nominated: Best Picture. Nominated: Best Screenplay.
Cast: Sir John Mills, Anthony Wager (Young Pip), Valerie Hobson, Jean Simmons, Bernard Miles, Francis L. Sullivan, Finlay Currie, Martita Hunt, Sir Alec Guinness, Ivor Barnard, Freda Jackson, Eileen Erskine, George Hayes, Hay Petrie, John Forrest, Torin Thatcher, O.B. Clarence, John Burch, Richard George, Grace Denbigh-Russell, Everley Gregg, Anne Holland, Frank Atkinson, Gordon Begg, Edie Martin, Walford Hyden, Roy Arthur, Howard Lang (uncredited), Dido Plumb (uncredited) and Ernie Pratt (uncredited)
Director: David lean
Producers: Anthony Havelock-Allan and Ronald Neame
Screenplay: Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, Cecil McGivern, Kay Walsh, Ronald Neame and Charles Dickens (novel)
Composer: Walter Goehr
Cinematography: Guy Green and Robert Krasker (shot opening sequence)
Video Resolution: 1080p [Black-and-White]
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 113 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: ITV Studios Home Entertainment
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: Sir David Lean's adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic is one of the most beloved British films of all time. Sir David Lean's journey began with ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ in 1939, when Sir David Lean attended a stage production of the novel adapted and directed by Sir Alec Guinness, who served as narrator and played the supporting role of Herbert Pocket. In 1945, Sir David Lean and his partners in the Cine Guilds of Great Britain, which was the independent filmmaking unit they had formed, with cinematographer Ronald Neame and production manager Anthony Havelock-Allan, within the Rank Organization, pondered their third production, Sir David Lean suggested the Charles Dickens novel and his partners concurred it would be just the kind of prestige project that could break into the American market and J. Arthur Rank put up the money for the production. Playwright Clemence Dane was hired to adapt the sprawling novel, but Sir David Lean felt it was a total disaster and the partners decided to screenplay themselves, as they had their adaptation of Noel Coward's ‘Blithe Spirit’ .
Sir David Lean went for a harder, sharper look and opened the film with a dark, nightmarish scene. Skinny, wide-eyed Pip (played by newcomer Anthony Wager) runs through the marshes to visit his mother's grave on a stormy night, when he is startled by an escaped convict Abel Magwitch [Finlay Currie]. Pip is overwhelmed by the imagery and terrified by the desperate convict, who demands food and the boy's silence, and Sir David Lean shoots the scene is if from the perspective of this small boy, terrified and at the mercy of this dangerous world. It's a piece of pure cinematic creation, accomplished with forced perspective sets, especially the creaky church looming in the background, and glass mattes to create the stormy sky, the kind of ingenuity they would need to create a visually rich world on their budget.
Sir David Lean started the film with Robert Krasker, but was unhappy with his soft look and replaced him with Guy Green, who brought a starker look and a more dynamic contrast to the imagery. To enhance the perspective of the young Pip, Guy Green shot his scenes as a boy with a wide lens to exaggerate the size and space of the sets. The most visually evocative scenes in the film, however, take place in Miss Havisham's shadowy mansion. The true mastery of Sir David Lean’s adaptation lies in the natural accentuation of human drama despite the pervading influence of social satire in Charles Dickens' work. The sudden social trajectory of the young pauper lends an often cutting observation of the class divide and a distinctly well-observed social commentary on the time.
Summoned by the mysterious matron to Miss Havisham's shuttered manor, Pip enters a gothic haunted house that time forgot and finds an eccentric, possibly mad dowager in a rotting wedding dress, holding court in a musty throne room dominated by a decomposing wedding cake, a reminder of the day she was jilted at the altar. Miss Havisham has sent for Pip to become a playmate for her ward Estella [Jean Simmons], an impertinent young beauty with whom Pip immediately falls in love. Apparently, young Anthony Wager also fell in love with teenage Jean Simmons, and how could not a thirteen-year-old boy with stars in his eyes not and even played the hero in real life. According to jean Simmons, her dress caught on fire from a candle she was carrying through a scene up a flight of dark stairs. "Everybody stood aghast, but young Anthony Wager came and tore it off me and put it out and Anthony Wager was the one who saved me."
Miss Havisham has developed an antipathy for mankind and though one feels that on one level she likes Pip she is also quite prepared to play games with him. She uses him in her quest to mould her ward Estella in her image and to gain revenge on men. Jean Simmons’s Estella, here we find she is witty, intelligent and beautiful and she treats Pip pretty abominably but I was convinced as a child that she was good at heart and liked him underneath, I’m not quite sure what this says about me! I was a lonely and romantic child but those scenes still enchant me, so much so that I feel Valerie Hobson as the bland older Estella simply doesn’t have the same magical appeal of Ms. Jean Simmons.
Valerie Hobson (who just happened to be married to producer Anthony Havelock-Allan) plays the grown Estella, trained by Miss Havisham to be a heartless social mercenary, and the major supporting roles were filled out by some of the most striking character actors in Britain, like Finlay Currie as the convict Abel Magwitch, Bernard Miles as Pip's guardian Joe Gargery and the imposing Francis L. Sullivan as the decidedly humourless lawyer Mr. Jaggers, a role he played in the 1934 Hollywood version of the novel. Martita Hunt reprised her role as Miss Havisham from Sir Alec Guinness's stage production, and they say her imperious portrayal was magnificent.
Rather than try to condense the whole novel into a rushed journey through the plot, they focused on the integrity of Pip's story and his defining scenes and pared away plot elements and supporting characters that didn't serve his dramatic journey. Much of the dialogue was taken directly from the novel. Cecil McGivern and Kay Walsh were brought in when Lean left to work on ‘Brief Encounter’ , with Kay Walsh credited for coming up with the ending of the film, because Charles Dickens had written two endings for the novel, neither of which Cecil McGivern and Kay Walsh found particularly effective for a cinematic treatment.
The adaptation by Sir David Lean and his collaborators is a model of intelligent adaptation, rich with character and atmosphere yet focused firmly on the journey of Pip, from young orphan on the Kent marshes to a young man in London society. Sir David Lean fills ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ with a wealth of visual detail and vivid characters and personalities without allowing them to swamp his hero, and he directs with a warmth and humour often missed in such costume dramas and reverent literary adaptations. Though greatly pared down, this third screen version of Charles Dickens' novel remains to this day the quintessential cinematic incarnation. In terms of the sheer scope and grandeur of Sir David Lean’s work his adaptation of ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ is a consistent and undeniable hit. With a cast of such prolific talent, the film succeeds in becoming an enduring classic whose influence in further big-screen adaptations of the writer's work are there for all to see.
If you haven’t seen or experienced ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ yet, I thoroughly recommend it. Again, simply consider the opening scenes, as the young Pip [Anthony Wager] is rushing home through a marshy landscape, entering a churchyard in which he is menaced by escaped convict Abel Magwitch who accosts him for food from Pip’s home, telling him with delicious relish that if Pip were to tell his guardians of Abel Magwitch’s existence that a “certain young man” of his acquaintance and one with a taste for eating livers no less and will creep into the house and wreak revenge. Pip being a polite boy treats Abel Magwitch with respect despite being scared out of his wits and it is from this startling beginning that the plot of the film unfolds. It isn’t just the wonderful performances or the spectacular landscape, with gibbets limned against the horizon, or the fantastic dialogue or the magnificent cinematography and editing that makes it work, it’s all of those and more. There’s a beauty in this film that never fails to move and it’s funny and scary and wrenching too.
Blu-ray Video Quality – The ITV Studios Home Entertainment UK Release of ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ is faithfully presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with a competent, technically proficient 1080p encoded image transfer. First and foremost, blacks are decent, whites don’t wash out the image, and midrange greys imbue the image with fairly impressive depth. Detail is the highlight of the transfer with fine textures, crisp edges, and plenty of minute surprises that are muddled and blurred on The Criterion Collection inferior DVD. Contrast wavers slightly, but is generally a good solid and bright, especially considering the age of the film. If I have any major complaints, it’s that black levels are never fully resolved, quite a bit of detail is lost in the heaviest shadows, still, the fact that ITV didn’t employ edge enhancement, especially with DNR [Digital Noise Reduction], or any other meddling post-processing technique is a definite plus. The image is largely free of annoying artefacts and source noise, allowing the transfer to deliver a clean and attractive presentation of the film, but sadly now and again fine white lines running on the left hand side of the screen that appearing now and again, but despite this, it does not spoil your viewing enjoyment. Sir David Lean’s ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ still thoroughly outshines the 1999 The Criterion Collection inferior DVD release and offers fans the best looking version of the film available to date.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The ITV Studios Home Entertainment UK Release of ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ is presented with a 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono Audio track, that is a faithful representation of the original audio source. Low-end sounds are flat, dynamics are dull, and treble tones don’t have the strength to stand out in the limited mix. Dialogue is crisp and well prioritised, but there's really no reason it shouldn’t be. Still, I’d rather hear this authentic mono presentation, than sit through a horrible updated poor 5.1 remix and again it is paramount to purchase this UK Release from ITV Studios Home Entertainment Blu-ray release, as there is unlikely not going to get an upgraded release for the USA market. Again this ITV Studios Home Entertainment Blu-ray release offers a totally rich and rewarding mono audio track, as I am very happy and very pleased with this UK Release’s audio presentation. So anyone purchasing this particular Blu-ray UK Release will be very well rewarded.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras: Unfortunately, this ITV Studios Home Entertainment UK Release Blu-ray does not offer any supplemental materials.
Finally, The ITV Studios Home Entertainment UK Release of ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ is true to the faithfulness of the period the novel was set in. The film ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ itself is a wonderful adaptation of Charles Dickens classic novel, the video transfer delivers an impressive rich Black-and-White rendering of its source, and the mono audio track sounds as good as when the 1946 film was originally released. Sure, the disc doesn’t have any supplements and you do have to have an appreciation of older cinema to enjoy the film, but this is a classic in every sense of the word. For those in the North American region, it is well worth purchasing this well-produced Blu-ray, especially as it is an All Region release that probably will not receive a USA domestic release anytime in the near future. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso