The Criterion Collection
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IN ONE OF THE GREAT TRANSLATIONS OF LITERATURE INTO FILM, AND THE DEBUT FILM OF ALEC GUINESS, DAVID LEAN BRINGS DICKENS' MASTERPIECE TO ROBUST ON-SCREEN LIFE. THE CHARACTERS POPULATE LEAN'S MAGNIFICENT MINIATURE, BEAUTIFULLY PHOTOGRAPHED BY GUY GREEN AND DESIGNED BY JOHN BRYAN.
David Lean's handsome adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic novel captures the warm humor and richness of character that so many filmmakers miss in their reverent recreations of Victorian England. From the nightmarish opening sequence on the windswept graveyard where young orphan Pip (Anthony Wager) meets the desperate escaped criminal Magwitch (Finlay Currie) to the shadowy, musty mansion of the widow Miss Haversham (Martita Hunt) where he first meets the impertinent young beauty Estella (Jean Simmons), Lean captures a childlike exaggeration of reality with his elegant expressionism. When Pip's sudden change in fortune sends him to London as a burgeoning gentleman in high society, Lean sketches a beautiful, bustling city. John Mills's performance as the adult Pip charts his change from the wide-eyed wonder and generous spirit of the child he was to the class snob transformed by money and social standing, an ugly flaw that Pip confronts when his mysterious benefactor is finally revealed. The outstanding cast also features Valerie Hobson as the grown-up Estella, now a beguiling enchantress, a bright young Alec Guinness in his film debut as Pip's jovial London roommate Herbert Pocket, and the imposing Francis L. Sullivan as the decidedly humorless lawyer Jaggers. Exquisitely photographed by Guy Green (who won an Oscar for his work). Lean and his collaborators effectively maintain the heart of Dickens's epic drama while cutting it to its essentials in this vivid, compelling film. --Sean Axmaker
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Alas, it doesn’t fulfill its potential.
The chief problem is the casting of John Mills as the adult Pip and, to a lesser extent, Valerie Hobson as the adult Estella.
Transitions of this kind are aways a challenge for filmmakers. If they’ve done their job right, we’ve already formed an attachment for the younger versions of the characters (here well-rendered by Anthony Wager and more particularly by Jean Simmons). And if they’re not careful in the casting of the older versions, they risk throwing away that goodwill.
That’s what happens here.
Mills is adequate. He says the lines. He moves to his marks. He does what Pip is supposed to do in his scenes.
But this is more reciting than acting. His performance is as obvious as Pip’s new suits and lacks sophistication and passion. It’s effectively like casting a Mr. Bingley-level actor in a Mr. Darcy-level role. It’s not so much that I didn’t like him — we’re not really supposed to like the adult Pip — as that I did not accept him.
On top of that, at 38, Mills was a good deal too old for the role. (Pip is supposed to be in his early 20s.)
This kind of thing -- both the reciting and the inattention to characters' proper ages -- happened a lot back in the ’30 and ‘40s, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.
Nor is that the only issue. A great deal of Dickens’ wonderful novel had to be pushed aside to squeeze the core story into two hours. This sometimes leaves the film feeling stripped-down and rushed — most conspicuously in the finale, where I had the sense they were trying to catch a train.
To be sure, there are nevertheless many good things about Great Expectations. (How does one not enjoy the pompous brevity of Mr. Jaggers and the rough bluster of Abel Magwitch?)
But it’s hard to take full pleasure in sidelights when the main attraction feels like a bitter mistake.
The one thing I did not like about this DVD was that I could not find any way to turn the subtitles off. Subtitles are vital to me in operas and other foreign-language films, but I don't need them in a GREAT EXPECTATIONS in English. They are a very good quality of subtitles, but I still would have preferred them not to be there cluttering up the bottom of the picture and constantly tempting me to read them instead of giving my whole attention to watching and listening.
It was everything I rememberd from that long ago Sunday afternoon and the reading of the book. The sound and video both surpassed my memories of that mid 50's TV broadcast. This version of Great Expectations tells the story far better and more truthful to the book than any movie made sense.
If youl liked Charles Dickins book, buy this Criterion Collection. You will not regret it one penny.
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growing up in England .It s my favorite move.