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7. Great Expectations (1946), dir. David Lean

Chrestomanci slacking in style
This was the latest of the wonderful Cottage Classics film nights, which I attended along with the lovely ms_siobhan, planet_andy and big_daz. As usual, the evening opened with a selection of vintage adverts, including some fab numbers from the '80s. I particularly enjoyed witnessing the 're-launch' of the Ford Escort, hearing about the amazing capabilities of my childhood computer, the fabulous Acorn Electron, and being apprised of the delicious sophistication of Babycham. All of that, though, faded into insignificance next to this public information broadcast featuring the New Seekers lending their vocal talents to the Keep Britain Tidy campaign:


I'm not sure I have ever seen the essence of 1970s culture so successfully captured in a single three-minute film. And all that was before the main feature even started!

The film itself is justly famous, and seems to be spoken of most frequently for featuring Jean Simmons as the young Estella. She is certainly fantastic in the role, but then again the whole cast was a delight to watch. Dickens might as well have written all of his novels with the great tradition of British character acting directly in mind, and the people playing Jaggers the lawyer, his assistant Wemmick, Miss Havisham, Magwitch the convict, the scrawny young Herbert Pocket and the Aged P. in this film really did his comi-tragic characters proud. It was especially fun, though, to see a young Alec Guinness playing the older version of Pip's dandyish room-mate Herbert Pocket.

I read the novel in my late teens, and distinctly remember failing to give a terribly good answer to the question "Why could Pip never marry Estella?" in my interview at Bristol.1 The film slims down the plot a little, for example omitting a quite distressing sub-plot in which Pip's sister is attacked in the forge, and ends up bedridden and unable to speak, and also changes the ending so that the question asked of me in the interview is entirely begged. But on the whole the outline is fairly faithful to the novel, with I think a fair amount of Dickens' dialogue preserved.

That's not to say it is a ploddingly conventional film, though - far from it. It had quite a few features which I think must have been rather innovative for the time. For example, early on when Pip sneaks off across the marshes to take a stolen pie and file to Magwitch, he hears the voices of critical adults all around him as a projection of his guilt, including emanating from a group of cows who give him withering stares as he passes. It also features a training montage, as Pip learns to waltz and fence in his early days in London - a device which became famous with Rocky in the late '70s, but obviously goes back rather earlier if you know where to look. As ms_siobhan rightly says, it's also very rich in the fabulous use of light, contrast and composition that all the best films of this era do so well.

I saw parts of the new BBC adaptation over Christmas, and that had a lot to offer too. But this version will always remain a Classic, and I'm very glad I saw it.


1. I interviewed for a place to study English, and got it, but then switched to Ancient History in my first week. It remains one of the most obviously life-changing decisions I've ever taken.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
ms_siobhan
Mar. 16th, 2012 01:26 pm (UTC)
I'd forgotten about the Babycham - might treat myself to one of those this evening :-)

And Wemmick with his greased down kiss curls was a delight too.

I wonder what the next classic will be, I would be beside myself with excitement if it was either Sunset Boulevard or Dragonwyck or a proper 1930's universal horror.
swisstone
Mar. 17th, 2012 10:53 am (UTC)
"Why could Pip never marry Estella?"

Because she's evil and manipulative and dear god Pip, stay away!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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