By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –
Charles Dickens is one of the best writers of all time. He has created some of the greatest literary figures, ranging from Oliver Twist to David Copperfield. Within the last stages of his writing career he wrote Great Expectations, a novel that contains all of the classic elements of a true work by Dickens, such as plot twists, coincidences, and very unique characters. Great writing has always formed the basis for great films, and that is true for David Lean’s adaptation.
One of the best elements about this film is the depth that Anthony Wager and Jean Simmons give to their performances of the young Pip and the young Estella. Wager was chosen from almost 700 boys to play the iconic character. Anthony Wager manages to capture the essence of Dickens’ main character even though it was his first film role. Jean Simmons also looks like the perfect embodiment of the young Estella, a character that Pip describes as “very proud, very pretty, and very insulting.” A fun fact about these two stars is that Anthony actually saved Jean’s life on the set of this film after her apron accidentally caught on fire.
Wager and Simmons later went on to have long careers after the completion of this film even though Wager never received the amount of fame that Simmons did. That is because Wager went on to became a major television star while Simmons received acclaim for playing literary characters ranging from Ophelia in Hamlet (1948) to Sister Sharon Falconer in Elmer Gantry (1960). In fact, those two roles allowed her to earn both an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination, respectively. It is safe to say that David Lean’s production produced the long careers for these two performers.
Even though the young stars shined brightly, the adult versions of the main characters did not. John Mills’s performance as the adult Pip is decent, but could have been better. Mills was also 38 when he made this film even though the film covers Pip’s life only up until the age of 25, which consequently made Pip look really old. Valerie Hobson appears to have been miscast as the adult Estella because her performance was relatively flat while Jean Simmons’ portrayal makes Estella look like she walked right out of the pages of Dickens’ novel. Ironically, Mills and Hobson both coached Wager since this was his first film, but it appears as if Wager gave a better performance than the two of them.
Great Expectations will always remain of the greatest novels ever written, and David Lean’s film will always remain a cinematic masterpiece. Interestingly, Lean never read Dickens’ original novel, yet he was still able to direct this and some other of the best film adaptations of great literature, including A Passage to India in 1984. Lean might not have been well-read, but his skills as a director are evident because of his miraculous ability to turn a 600 page novel into a two-hour spectacle. Many high school students might dread this novel in their English classes, but hopefully audiences will admire the craftsmanship that went into the making of this Best Picture nominee.
Great Expectations (1946) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Joe Gargery’s hat falls during a dinner scene with Pip
Take a Drink: every time Pip visits Satis House (both as a young boy as well as an adult)
Drink a Shot: whenever Estella refers to Pip as “boy” in a derogatory fashion