Categories
British Drama

Scrooge

Scrooge is deservedly a beloved Christmas movie. Like the not dissimilar It’s a Wonderful Life, it came by its standing as a beloved film democratically: Long after it was released generations of people fell in love with it on television. And with very good reason.

The heart of this film is Alastair Sim, whose lack of a 1951 best actor Oscar nomination should make the Academy hang its head in perdurable shame. More than any other movie adaptation of Dickens’ novella, screenwriter Noel Langley’s treatment gives Scrooge a backstory that explains his nature and outlook, making him a more fully developed character. Sim must therefore portray powerful moments of grief, cruelty, pity, parsimony, regret, remorse and manic joy, and he does so in a profoundly effective way. He was so damn good in everything he did (e.g., Green for Danger, another of my recommendations) that it’s hard to say which is his greatest film performance, but this may well be it.

Categories
British Drama

Great Expectations

The great director Sir David Lean is remembered mainly for lushly coloured 70mm epics with big international casts, sweeping stories and long running times (e.g., Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India, Bridge on the River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago). But he had a fine career before those triumphs during which he made tightly constructed black and white films with British casts, stories and locations. These early Lean films include two excellent Dickens’ adaptations, one of which is the 1946 version of Great Expectations.

The origins of Lean’s adaptation of the oft-filmed novel are visible in another film I recommend: In Which We Serve. Lean was an accomplished film editor when he got a chance to break into directing alongside Noël Coward on that movie. The cinematographer Ronald Neame is the producer of Great Expectations (and likely an influence on Guy Green’s trendsetting camera work). Bernard Miles and John Mills are back as actors, again adroitly playing off each other with emotional impact. Kay Walsh goes from acting to collaborating with Lean on the screenplay (along with Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, and Cecil McGivern), a masterpiece of economy which relates Dickens’ 500-page novel in just 118 minutes. Walsh went on to star in Lean’s excellent Oliver Twist and in private life to become the second in his series of six wives (imagine the alimony payments!). Alec Guinness was not in In Which We Serve, but Great Expectations, his first sizable film role, began his long-running cinematic partnership with Lean. All of this demonstrates what a small community British film was in its glorious period after the war, and the even smaller nature of the network Lean constructed around his own projects.