Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Great Expectations (1946) - David Lean

As you might have guessed I like to watch the odd film or two, and I tend to see a fair few films during the Christmas break. Normally I catch up with things that I just haven't had time to see, or those films that are simply too long to be seen during a normal working week (take a bow The Human Condition). Still when the big day rolls around I do like to see something special, it can't be any old tat - not on Christmas day. It's almost always a version of A Christmas Carol since that is by far my favourite Christmas story. Far superior to that other one about that couple that have a kid in a barn. It feels like I've seen just about every version of A Christmas Carol though, and so I've moved on during the past few years to just watching either this film or Lean's other Dickens adaptation Oliver Twist. Since I saw both Lean's and Polanski's versions of Twist earlier in the year, this years film was a bit of a no brainer.

Lean adapts the story well, anyone familiar with the novel will notice that certain liberties have been taken (especially with the ending). But that's what you get when you adapt a book for the cinema. What works on the page doesn't always work so well on the screen, I doubt people will ever be able to accept that though, since time after time a film is slated for not being like the book. Boo fucking hoo, just go back and read the book, it hasn't changed because of the film has it? Anyway I'm not about to complain since this is one of my favourite Lean films. It's got a brisk feel to it, and being from the days when David Lean was able to make a film that ran under two hours, it does move along quite quickly.

Anthony Wager plays Pip as a boy and I have to say I think he is great in the role. For those who don't know the story it goes something like this. Pip meets an escaped prisoner (Magwitch) one night, and instead of dobbing him in to the boys in blue he gets him a file and some food. Magwitch is caught however and heads back off to chokey. Pip meanwhile comes to the attention of local weirdo rich type Miss Havisham, if I write spinster then you'll be able to picture her, she never leaves her decaying mansion, was jilted at the alter, you know the type. Anyway it's here that the young Pip meets and falls head over heels for Estella. Cut to ten years later and now Pip is a young man who looks like John Mills, and just settling down to a life of drudgery when Mr. Jaggers, a solicitor from the Big Smoke arrives with the news that Pip has a secret benefactor, and is to leave his old life behind, and head off to London town to learn how to become a gentleman. Phew.

Who is the mystery benefactor, will Pip get it on with Estella and what's all that about Jaggers' maid? Well despite the fact that you probably consider yourself a cinephile, you'll be amazed at just how great it all comes together. It's always a treat to be surprised by reveals in old films, and that happens in this film. It's a great story, Dickens' character names alone are worth the entry price, but couple that with Lean's magnificent eye for angles and camera set ups and you know you are onto a winner. All that and Alec Guinness in his first film role. You can see why I return to this film time and again.

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