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Film / Great Expectations (1946)

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Great Expectations is a 1946 film directed by David Lean.

It is, of course, an adaptation of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It is the story of a boy named Phillip Pirrip, called "Pip". Pip grows up as a child in the care of his gentle stepbrother Joe Gargery, a blacksmith, and his much, much less gentle older sister, known only as "Mrs. Joe." One day when Pip, still a small boy, is visiting the grave of his parents, he is accosted by an escaped prisoner, Abel Magwitch. Pip does as he's told and fetches Magwitch some food and a file to hack off his chains, but Magwitch is eventually caught and sent back to prison.

Pip is eventually called to the mansion of Miss Havisham, a crazy old lady who has lived in one room for decades, since she was left at the altar by the man she loved. Pip for his part falls in love with Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, the beautiful but cold and heartless Estella. Pip has no hope for marriage with Estella, since she is a rich lady and he is a humble blacksmith's apprentice. But when a Mysterious Benefactor bestows on Pip some "great expectations"—namely, a large sum of money—Pip's life is turned upside down.


Film debut of Alec Guinness (Pip's friend Herbert) and 17-year-old Jean Simmons (young Estella). 38-year-old John Mills stars as 21-year-old Pip.


  • Adapted Out: The characters of Orlick, Matthew and Belinda Pocket, Startop, Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard, Mr. Creppock, Mrs. Wopsle, Mr. Barley, The Society of the Finches and Miss Skiffins are omitted.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Eliminates much of the Narrative Filigree that is characteristic of all of Dickens' work. The character of Orlick is eliminated completely, which requires that Pip's sister die of natural causes. The character of Mr. Wopsle is Demoted to Extra, which means that the movie does not include Pip and Herbert going to Mr. Wopsle's terrible production of Hamlet.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The happy ending of the film differs greatly from the novel, which takes place 11 years after most of the events and is slightly more ambiguous.
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  • Adaptational Late Appearance: Drummle does not appear until after Estella arrives in London, and he does in fact marry her in the novel.
  • Age Lift: Biddy is portrayed as being closer to Joe’s age than Pip’s, and Pip never intends to marry her as he does in the book.
  • And Starring: The "Introducing" credit goes to both Anthony Wager (young Pip) and Jean Simmons (young Estella).
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Pip to Estella, after he finds out that she is dating Drummle. She says that she is going to marry Drummle anyway.
  • As You Know: Pip is young but he isn't that young, which makes it odd when he says "And please, what's hulks?", requiring Joe to explain that there are prison ships nearby on the river.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: Miss Havisham's house is covered in cobwebs, as it hasn't been cleaned since she was rejected at the altar decades before.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The script is a slimmed-down version of the novel. It was inspired after David Lean witnessed an abridged 1939 stage version by Alec Guinness.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Charles Dickens leaned hard on this trope throughout his career. Lampshaded when Pip notes that Jaggers was lawyer to both Miss Havisham and Pip's benefactor, which Jaggers calls "a coincidence".
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation:
    • Pip’s sister’s assault at the hands of Orlick is deleted; instead she dies of illness earlier than she does in the novel.
    • In the novel, Miss Havisham’s immolation happens later, after Estella is married, and is not immediately fatal. She instead passes away during Pip’s illness.
  • Dramatic Drop: Pip drops his glass when Magwitch returns and reveals to Pip that it is he, and not Miss Havisham, who was Pip's anonymous benefactor that set him up as a gentleman.
  • Feet-First Introduction: We first see newly-made gentleman Pip with a camera shot that starts at his new fancy shoes and then pans up to reveal the whole of his new fancy suit.
  • Fish out of Water: Joe the humble country blacksmith does not fit in when he puts on a suit and comes to London to visit Pip. After a little talk Joe tells Pip that he's going back home, because he doesn't fit in.
  • Identical Grandfather: Valerie Hobson plays grown-up Estella, and also briefly appears as Molly, Estella's mother.
  • Imagine Spot: Pip imagines that the local cows know what he's up to. One cries "stop, thief" as Pip passes.
  • Light Equals Hope: A change to the novel's ending. In the book, Pip meets Estella at twilight at the site of Satis House, which has been torn down—there's nothing there but the gate, and Estella tells Pip she will build a new house on the grounds. In the film, Satis House is still standing. Pip goes inside and meets Estella, recently dumped by Drummle. She's sitting in Miss Havisham's old chair, deep in depression, seemingly resigned to growing old alone. Pip refuses to accept this, tearing down all the curtains and the boards over the windows, letting light into the house for the first time in decades. Pip and Estella go running off together arm in arm.
    Pip: I have come back, Miss Havisham! I have come back to let in the sunlight!
  • Man on Fire: Miss Havisham meets her death when her ancient wedding dress catches fire.
  • Match Cut: From Drummle and Estella skating on a pond, to Drummle and Estella dancing at a ball.
  • Mathematician's Answer: When Estella escorts Pip into Satis House for the first time, Jaggers says "Who do we have here?" and Estella answers "A boy."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: "What have I done", says Miss Havisham, after being presented with the reality of how cold and heartless Estella is.
  • Mysterious Benefactor: Pip has no idea who has bestowed on him a large sum of property that enables him to move up from country blacksmith's apprentice to London gentleman. He guesses Miss Havisham, but he is wrong.
  • Narrator: Adult Pip is occasionally heard providing narration which is straight from the novel.
  • No Name Given:
    • As in the novel, Pip's sister is only called "Mrs. Joe".
    • The convict who is Magwitch’s nemesis is not named in the film. It is revealed in the novel that he is Compyeson, the man who jilted Miss Havisham.
  • Oh, Crap!: Pip is shocked when a returned Magwitch reveals to him that he, Magwitch, is the Mysterious Benefactor.
  • Ominous Fog: Spooky fog helps set a foreboding mood for Pip's first encounter with Magwitch in the graveyard, and his second encounter, when he brings the food and the file that Magwitch told him to get.
  • The Shut-In: As Miss Havisham tells Pip, she has not seen the sunlight since she was dumped by her fiancé many years before.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the novel, Estella is widowed when Drummle is kicked in the head by a horse. In the movie, Drummle is said to have dumped Estella when he found out about her parentage.
  • Time Passes Montage: A quick montage shows Pip learning how to be a gentleman, taking lessons in boxing, dancing, and fencing.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Two sets of actors play Pip and Estella as children and as grown-ups.
  • Title Drop: Jaggers delivers the news of Pip's good fortune by saying "My communication to him is that he has great expectations."
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Rather, a Carriage Goodbye, as Biddy and Joe bid farewell to Pip as he takes his carriage to London. (In the novel Pip walks to the station by himself.)
  • Travel Montage: Shots of a carriage are intercut with a panning shot across a map to show Pip's journey from his village in the marshes to the great city of London.
  • Voiceover Letter: Done with a letter from Biddy to Pip telling him that Joe will come to visit.