Great Expectations (1947)

The orphan and the spinster, the marshland and the metropolis: Dickens’s vivid characters and locales receive the breath of cinematic life in David Lean’s cherished adaptation.

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“A large amount of its visual pleasure is derived from the superlative photography of the Medway Saltings, and a recognition of the mordant beauty of English ‘weather’.”
Richard Winnington, News Chronicle, 1946

Taking on Charles Dickens’s classic novel – a mix of coming-of-age story, social satire and gothic fable – David Lean and his collaborators establish the special credentials of their own medium in the opening reel, covering the orphan Pip’s fateful meeting with convict Magwitch in a Kent churchyard with a tour de force of moving camerawork, expressionist lighting and knife-edge editing.

Plucked from the provinces by an allowance from a mystery benefactor, Pip subsequently goes up in the world, but John Mills’s mild performance as the adult hero is upstaged by vivid supporting turns from Jean Simmons as the Young Estella, Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham and – in the first of his five roles for Lean – Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket.

Alfonso Cuaron’s 1998 remake relocated the action to present-day Florida and New York, with Ethan Hawke as Pip, renamed Finnegan, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Estella.

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