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Great Expectations (1975)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Great Expectations (1975)
DirectorJoseph Hardy
Production CompanyTranscontinental Film Productions
ProducerRobert Fryer
ScreenplaySherman Yellen
Original novelCharles Dickens
Director of PhotographyFreddie Young

Cast: Michael York (Pip); Sarah Miles (Estella); James Mason (Magwich); Margaret Leighton (Miss Havisham); Robert Morley (Pumplechook)

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The story of a young man whose moral progress is shaped by two crucial childhood experiences: the traumatic encounter with Magwitch, an escaped convict, and his association with the eccentric Miss Havisham and her protegé Estella.

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Joseph Hardy's version of Dickens' classic was originally made for American TV - initially as a musical, although all the songs were removed prior to release. It is an interesting example of a director's televisual sensibility (Hardy has worked predominantly on TV dramas and adaptations) struggling to come to terms with the grandiose scale implied by the source narrative. Hardy's vision seems altogether more constricted than, for example, David Lean's adaptation (1946).

While Lean's version offers the viewer a clear sense of space and perspective with the famous opening shots of the desolate, windswept marshes, in this 1974 remake we find that the bleak vista implied by Pip's opening voice-over narration is never realised visually. Our focus does not shift from the confines of the churchyard, where Pip is visiting his parent's grave.

The well-known moment in Lean's film, where Magwitch (Finlay Currie) grabs Pip unexpectedly, still has the power to shock. Lean has the convict appear with a suddenness that implies the coming threat of violence by which Magwitch obtains Pip's help. Hardy takes a quite different approach, keeping the camera fixed on Magwitch (James Mason) as he creeps behind Pip (Simon Gipps-Kent), thus eliminating the element of surprise used to such good effect by Lean almost thirty years earlier.

Hardy's grounding in TV becomes a strength during internal scenes, where he can focus on the close interaction of characters, but this is an adaptation that feels too enclosed at times, too bound by sets and interiors.

While it's clear Hardy's adaptation is far from being a classic film, it does have some clear merits, notably the performance of Joss Ackland as Joe Gargery. Ackland manages to create a subtle blend of individual simplicity and moral fortitude that seems to capture the essential role the village blacksmith fills in the narrative. Another highlight is Robert Morley's portrayal of Uncle Pumblechook, the pompous seed and corn merchant and a socially ambitious snob. Morley injects the character with an air of righteous indignation and his unwarranted advice to Pip as he ferries the boy to Miss Havisham's Satis House is conveyed with a sly, Machiavellian tone which hints at the depth of his personal ambition. Interestingly, of all the cast, it is Mason as Magwitch who seems most ill at ease with his role.

David Parker

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Video Clips
1. Magwich (3:02)
2. Miss Havisham (2:05)
3. Magwich's flight (4:51)
Jarre, Maurice (1924-2009)
Mason, James (1909-1984)
Miles, Sarah (1941-)
Morley, Robert (1908-1992)
Quayle, Anthony (1913-1989)
Roberts, Rachel (1927-1980)
York, Michael (1942-)
Young, Freddie (1902-1998)
Children on Film
Dickens on Film