With reference to the opening scenes, compare David Lean’s and Tony Marchant’s adaptations of ‘Great Expectations’ and consider how the directors’ choices may affect audience response. ‘Great Expectations’ was written in the early 1860’s, by Charles Dickens; it tells the story of Phillip Pirrip (known as ‘Pip’) as he turns from the young adopted son of a blacksmith to an educated gentleman. The two screen adaptations of the story that I will be comparing are the version directed by David Lean in 1945, and the BBC television version directed by Tony Marchant in 1998.
I will be considering how the directors use camera, lighting, imagery, characterisation, sound effects, music and storyline development. In the in the book’s opening chapter Pip meets a convict (Abel Magwitch) in the church graveyard, who orders him to bring him some food, and a file to get rid of the chains around his legs. The scene ends with Pip running home to steal the property. During the second chapter, Pip gets home, and the readers encounter Mrs Gargery, Pip’s older sister, and her husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. Pip then steals some brandy, a pork pie and a file, and returns to the graveyard.
However, instead of meeting Magwitch, Pip discovers another convict, with a scar on his cheek. He eventually finds Magwitch, and gives him the pork pie, the drink and the file. Tony Marchant’s version begins with a slow zoom onto Pip’s face in the centre of the screen. It then shows Pip running through a field, pursued by the convict. The camera follows Pip, tracking alongside him, and periodically changes to the view from the eyes of the pursuer. The audience do not see who is following Pip, but they can hear heavy breathing and the rattle of the chains around the convict’s legs.
The viewer experiences Pip’s fear, as he tries to get away from the unseen pursuer, and they can sympathise with the small boy running for his life through the vegetation. The effect is created by the successful amalgamation of music, sound effects, and camera shots. The beginning of the David Lean film is almost exactly as in the book. It begins by showing a copy of the book, open on the first page with a narrator reading the initial paragraph. Dickens wrote the book through Pip’s eyes, and in this adaptation the older narrator tells much of the story, filling in time lapses and explaining things that cannot be said in pictures.
The book is blown through the pages by a flurry of wind and this sound is repeated throughout the initial scene. The audience then immediately see Pip in silhouette, running towards the graveyard. He enters the churchyard and pulls a plant from in front of his parent’s grave. The shot then moves to a creaking tree above the grave. This gives the audience a sense of suspense and fear; they feel as if somebody is watching Pip. Pip runs away from the grave, back towards where he entered the graveyard. Suddenly, he runs directly into Magwitch, and is terrified of him.
In the scenery of the David Lean adaptation there are many similarities with the original text; ‘the low church wall’, the silhouetted gibbet, the ‘long, black horizontal line’ of the marshes and the tombstone of the parents with the parent’s names in the lettering described in the book. However Marchant adapted the scenery and story slightly, inserting a chase through the long grass. In the book there is no mention of arable land, only land ‘intersected by dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it’.
The chase is probably inserted to add some additional drama and tension to the original story. In the scenery Marchant uses the graveyard, but does not show the parents’ tombstone. Both settings have some similarities with the book; in both adaptations the graveyard is a ‘bleak place overgrown by nettles’ and the area is shown to be ‘marsh country’ as Dickens describes. This is significant as the story progresses, and later in the book the landscape is described as ‘A most beastly place. mud bank, mist, swamp; swamp, mist, and mud bank. ‘ In the scenery, there are many symbolic aspects.