As an orphan boy who is looked after by his sister and her blacksmith husband (Bernard Miles), Phillip 'Pip' Pirrip helps an escaped convict 'Magwitch' (Finlay Currie) by stealing food and drink from his sister. Soon afterwards, Magwitch is caught and sent back to prison.
Pip is summoned by the odd Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) as a plaything for her daughter, Estella. He soon finds out that Estella seems to dispise him and is only out to hurt him.
Later, as a young man, Pip (John Mills) comes into money from an unknown benefactor who wishes him to live a rich life in London. Pip, however, can't get thoughts of Estella (Valerie Hobson) out of his mind.
It took me two attempts to watch Great Expectations and this was not because it was difficult to get into, but because I fell asleep the first time. When my girlfriend asked me what I'd thought of the film, I realised how little I'd caught first time around. On second viewing, the film made far more sense.
Despite being a relatively famous Dickens tale, I had only heard of the story in passing rather than taking the time to study it further. Miss Havisham is undoubtedly the most famous character from the story but I was surprised to learn that she is really just a major background character.
The tale from Dickens is truly excellent with its various twists and turns, and a cursory glance over Wikipedia reveals that there have been at least 11 screen adaptations of Great Expectations. This 1946 version became the most celebrated amongst them, winning two Academy Awards in the process.
The reason this became the standout film is as much for the Cinematography and Art Direction (its two Academy Awards) as it was for the director. David Lean had a unmatched talent for bringing well known stories to life in film, later going on to direct the Russian tale Doctor Zhivago, the French story The Bridge over the River Kwai along with another Dickens classic, Oliver, amongst others. Great Expectations was still relatively early in his directing career, and it is clear he used his skills from these early films in some of his later epics.
The casting and range of acting on display is also superb. The young Pip has the perfect air of innocence while the young Estella is every bit the bitch that Miss Havisham intended her to be. John Mills retains this air, while adding dignity to the younger character. Finlay Currie expels terror alongside the young Pip but also shows his desperation and admiration for the elder Pip. As for Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham? She was perfect as the cast off spinster and looked perfectly at home in cobwebs.
It is a wonderfully cast, wonderfully directed adaptation of a wonderful story.