Glad to be out of Gotham’s Christmas nightmare, Sean and Cody are transported in chains to the marshlands of early 19th century England, where a Dickensian smorgasbord of social and environmental commentary is ready to envelop them like dust from Miss Haversham’s wedding gown. In the 1946 David Lean-directed Great Expectations, an adaptation of the Dickens novel, pauper tween Pip (John Mills) lets an escaped convict stuff his face with one of his sister’s meat pies, then finds himself the plaything of an eccentric matriarch who seems to want to fix him up with her bratty niece Estella (Jean Simmons). Ultimately Pip inherits a fortune under mysterious circumstances, but he’s not allowed to know who his sugar daddy is. Environmental issues discussed include the tidelands and marshlands of Kent, England and their role in British history, pollution and social problems in early Victorian-era London, the environmental dimensions of prisons and incarceration as social engineering, the colonization of Australia, and more.
Why did the hosts decide, within minutes of starting to watch this film, that it was an “environmental movie” that had to be on the show? What’s a “gammon”? Why did William the Conqueror give up trying to take over the Kent marshes? Who was the Aldington Gang and why were they forced to turn to a life of crime? Was Dickens an environmentalist? Why did the British start dumping their convicts in Australia? What diseases could you catch on a prison ship? What happened to the HMS Beagle after Darwin made his famous voyage aboard her? Is it possible to get a Ph.D. in history without ever reading Foucault? Was Alec Guinness hot in his youth? How did Batman (John Batman of Melbourne, Australia that is) make his second appearance in a row on a Green Screen episode? Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party, or a Romulan? All these questions and more are ready to hijack your paddlewheel steamer in this Dickensian episode of Green Screen.
The original 1946 trailer for Great Expectations.
Additional Materials About This Episode
The opening scene of Great Expectations involves Pip’s encounter with escaped criminal Abel Magwitch. Note the way the forbidding landscape of the marshes is portrayed.
Young Pip encounters Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt) and her niece, the acerbic Estella (Jean Simmons). This was Simmons’s breakout role.
This classic scene in Great Expectations shows the wonderful chemistry between Mr. Pocket (Alec Guinness) and the adult Pip (John Mills). The costumes are also pretty epic.
The Environmental History
John H. Grossman, “Living the Global Transport Network in Great Expectations,” Victorian Studies, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Winter 2015):
Anne-Julia Zwierlein, “Standing Out Like a Quartz Dyke,” Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Vol. 34, No. 2 (2009) (an article about the depiction of humans in a material environment in 19th century literature, including Dickens):
Sean Munger, “Earthbound Starship: The Strange Fate of the HMS Beagle,” SeanMunger.com, June 5, 2015:
Kent Film Office’s page on the making of Great Expectations:
A clip (not great quality) of Jean Simmons’s chilling performance in “The Drumhead,” an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was made in 1991.
Next Movie Up: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)