GREAT EXPECTATIONSCategory: Cinema + TV/Radio
1946 was suitably climaxed by David Lean’s memorable Great Expectations, easily the best British film of the year and possibly one of the best films ever made anywhere. The same director’s Brief Encounter had made him a director of world repute, and Great Expectations placed him immediately among that select group of great contemporary directors, a group which included Lubitsch, Carne, Hitchcock, Ford, Lang, Capra, Dreyer, Wyler and Reed. This great Dickens novel had been filmed before, by Universal, in Hollywood some ten years previously, but the British version was far superior in direction, acting and — most important of all — atmosphere.
Here were all the beloved Dickensian characters, brought to life exactly as we had pictured them. In the whole gallery Lean did not give any disappointments, the only possible exception being Bernard Miles, who, excellent as he was as Joe Gargery, did not have the physical necessity for conjuring up the historic picture of the big bluff, good-natured and guileless blacksmith. The young Pip of Anthony Wager and the grown-up Pip of John Mills, the young Estella of Jean Simmons and the grown-up Estella of Valerie Hobson, the Miss Havisham of Martita Hunt and the Herbert Pocket of Alec Guinness, the J aggers of Francis L. Sullivan and, above all, the Magwitch of Finlay Currie — these were shrewdly-drawn and endearing portraits of the characters we knew and loved; with never a false note, the film achieved distinction as a production of taste and beauty.
The quality of Great Expectations was set by the opening sequence, with young Pip running along the marshes in the twilight to place wild flowers on the grave of his parents. The atmosphere was perfectly established by the long shots of the lonely boy, the photography had the quality of evening mystery, and the sudden meeting with the escaped convict Magwitch in the churchyard came upon us with a sudden shock, a nicely timed piece of surprise cutting. And so to young Pip’s meeting with the proud and haughty Estella and the eccentric Miss Ilavisham, the unexpected legacy, the trip to London, the jolly apartment in Lincoln’s Inn with Herbert Pocket, the final tragedy of Magwitcli’s capture and death. The film faithfully transcribed every one of Dickens’ beloved scenes, almost every character was included (a notable Exception being Trabb’s boy), but there was the Wemmick of Ivor Barnard, the Aged Parent of О. B. Clarence and the Mrs Joe of Freda Jackson to compensate us. [...]
David Lean’s direction, Guy Green’s photography and the art direction of John Bryan were on the same level of inspiration. If 1946 could be said to have been the film year of any single person then it was certainly David Lean’s; it opened with Brief Encounter, a film acclaimed wherever it was shown, and it ended with Great Expectations, a triumph for British filmmaking and a criterion on which all judgement on the products of our rapidly improving industry must in future be based.
(From The British Film Yearbook, 1947—48)