Home Video Hovel: Great Expectations, by Chase Beck
On paper, Director Joseph Hardy’s Great Expectations would seem to be the perfect adaptation. For one, it has a highly-praised classic work of literature to draw from, for another the cast itself is loaded with notable British actors including Michael York, Sara Miles, Joss Ackland, Robert Morley, Anthony Quayle, and James Mason. Unfortunately, with the staid directing and overly-respectful screenplay, nobody in the film has much to do except wander around looking lost.
The classic tale, is a coming-of-age story for the young, orphan Pip. Who, after finding an escaped convict in the cemetery, goes on to become an object of curiosity to an old, unmarried, eccentric aristocrat and her ward Estrella. As time goes by, Pip is told that he has a mysterious benefactor who is willing to finance a respectable education and upbringing for Pip. Pip becomes a proper dandy living extravagantly, wasting his time and money while accumulating debt despite his large allowance. Eventually Pip learns the identity of his benefactor which leads to a surprising series of events resulting in Pip losing nearly everything.
It might not be fair that my only real exposure to Dicken’s Great Expectations is from reading it in high school. I found the work of classic literature as boring then as I do this film adaptation. Yet, adaptations of Dicken’s works pop-up over and over again over the years. I suppose everybody is convinced that if A Christmas Carol can get endless remakes, retellings and reimaginings then Great Expectations should be able to enjoy a bit of that as well. However, in my opinion, while A Christmas Carol makes its viewers nostalgic for great Christmases gone by, Great Expectations makes one nostalgic for their wasted youth, which is, by comparison, a less enjoyable experience.
While Pip is played by two actors to accommodate the passage of time, Estrella is only portrayed by Sara Miles. Simon Gipps-Kent, playing young Pip could not have been more than fifteen-years-old at the time of filming. When opposite the thirty-two-year-old Miles, the age discrepancy is so obvious, it had me wondering if this practice was a holdover from a stage-play adaptation or just deliberately confusing.
Hardy’s Great Expectation is a TV movie and the sparse sets show every bit of that. The Blu-ray treatment, with its clear, high-resolution picture make the cheapness of the sets all the more obvious. Due to this, while it was made in 1974, it looks at least 10-years older.
Shout Factory continues to put out these forgotten films on Blu-Ray. I suppose that we should be happy that there is any Blu-ray at all. I imagine high school literature teachers will be ecstatic that they can pop this into the player and not have to teach for three days. Unfortunately for the Blu-Ray collector, Shout Factory has decided to supply no additional features beyond the movie itself. I suppose that we should be happy for the option to select onscreen subtitles (English only) and the inclusion of a scene selection option. This film and Shout Factory’s Blu-ray make me all the more relieved that David Lean’s Great Expectations has been given a Criterion release (DVD) and is readily available on Blu-ray (and as a streaming purchase). While I’ve not yet had the pleasure of viewing it, I feel that seeking this version out would be an excellent palate cleanser to follow Hardy’s Great Expectations.
It would seem that, from the sparseness of Blu-ray extras, even Shout Factory did not have much faith in the public’s desire to see this film and, in my opinion, their concerns were well founded.