Great Expectations is considered by many to be
Dickens' masterpiece. Like its proceeding novel, A Tale of
Two Cities, it is among the shorter full novels of Dickens (only
Hard Times shorter than these two) at about 600 pages each.
Dickens tried to study the effect of inheritance on a human being.
Philip Pirrup (Pip) is an orphan with only one older sister, and
lives with his sister, her husband the village blacksmith and Biddy.
Despite his sister's harshness, Pip has a decent life.
One day, when visiting the graves of his parents, Pip
is surprised by an escaped convict. The convict threatens Pip,
who returns with food and supplies for him. Pip doesn't say
anything to the anyone about the convict, but just helps him.
However, the convict is caught, but he realizes Pip had been true to
him. He thanks the boy before being taken away.
Some years later Pip is invited to the home of an eccentric wealthy
woman named Mrs. Haversham. He is taken there and meets her
lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, a young boy (who we later learn is one Herbert
Pocket) and a proud, beautiful young girl named Estella. Pip
is to come several times a week to play cards with Estella (who
keeps denigrating him), to the amusement of Mrs. Haversham.
The old lady was the victim of betrayal when getting married, and
hates the world as a result. When Estella complains about Pip
being so common, Mrs. Haversham whispers to her, "You can break his
One day, Jaggers tells Pip and Joe that Pip has obtained a patron—he
is to be brought up to be a gentleman by an unknown benefactor.
Jaggers says that he has "great expectations" for Pip's future as a
That's the background. Mills slowly turns from incredulous
type into a terrible snob—even making poor
Joe and Biddy feel out of place in his presence. He pursues
Estella who, despite his rise, still considers him a poor boy.
He also considers that Mrs. Haversham is his benefactor, but he
isn't sure. Then he is surprised to meet the real
benefactor, Abel Magwich, and discovers that great wealth does not
come from "gentleman" all the time.
The film omits much of the original story, such as subplot involving
an attack on Mrs. Joe by an poor farm hand named Orlick, and a moment of
melodrama aimed at Pip by Orlick later on. There is not enough
about Pip's rival for Estella, a super snob named Bentley Drummle.
The problem of transporting of criminals to Australia and the rules
regarding their returning is not really discussed in the film.
Instead it is the effect of wealth on people that is the center of
the film version, and the film is stronger as a result.
Mills had one of his best early roles as the hero who discovers that
there are fine human beings who don't need money. Simmons and
Hobson are properly selfish as Estella. Guiness is pleasant as
Pip's closest friend (but the role is not as rich as his Fagin in
Oliver Twist). As was pointed out, Sullivan gives a sturdy
performance as a man in a corrupt profession in a corrupt world, who
tries to help people.