Great Expectations (1946) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A humble orphan suddenly becomes a gentleman with the help of an unknown benefactor.

  • Pip, a good-natured, gullible young orphan, lives with kind blacksmith Joe Gargery and his bossy, abusive wife "Mrs. Joe". When the boy finds two hidden escaped galley convicts, he obeys under, probably unnecessary, threat of a horrible death to bring the criminals food. He must steal at peril of more caning from the battle-ax. Just when Pip fears to get it really good while they have guests, a soldier comes for Joe who takes Pip along as assistant to work on the chains of the escaped galley-convicts, who are soon caught. The better-natured one takes the blame for the stolen food. Later Pip is invited to became the playmate of Estelle, the equally arrogant adoptive daughter of gloomy, filthy rich Miss Havisham at her estate, who actually has "permission" to break the kind kid's heart. Being the only pretty girl he ever saw, she wins his heart forever, even after a mysterious benefactor pays through a lawyer for his education and a rich allowance, so he can become a snob in London, by now "ashamed" of simple Joe. Only after years in idle wealth, Pip learns Havisham is not his benefactor as he assumed, and both her story and those of his real sponsor and Estelle.

  • As a young orphan boy, Pip lives with Joe Gargery, the local blacksmith, and his shrewish wife. He's not yet fourteen-years-old, at which point he will begin his apprenticeship as a blacksmith, so he lives a carefree life. He meets two people who will have a great impact on his future: an escaped convict from a prison ship destined to Australia, and Estella, a young girl who lives with Miss Havisham in a dusty falling down old mansion. After several years, Pip receives tremendous news: a secret benefactor has decided to fund his becoming a gentleman, and Pip promptly moves to London, where he shares rooms with Mr. Pocket and learns to become a man of great expectations, all on the two hundred fifty pounds sterling per year he receives from his benefactor. He also becomes a snob however, something that shames him later on. As he learns the identity of his secret benefactor, he also learns the true meaning of joy and life.

  • Orphan Pip discovers through lawyer Mr. Jaggers that a mysterious benefactor wishes to ensure that he becomes a gentleman. Reunited with his childhood patron, Miss Havisham, and his first love, the beautiful but emotionally cold Estella, he discovers that the elderly spinster has gone mad from having been left at the altar as a young woman, and has made her charge into a warped, unfeeling heartbreaker.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • An orphan, Phillip "Pip" Pirrip (Anthony Wager), lives with his shrewish older sister and her kind-hearted blacksmith husband, Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles). One day, Pip runs into an escaped convict, Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie). Magwitch intimidates the boy into getting him some food and a file for his chains. However, the man is caught when he attacks another escapee he hates and is taken back to prison.

    Later, Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), a rich, aloof spinster arranges to have the boy come to her mansion regularly, to provide her company and to play with a cruel but beautiful teenage girl, Estella (Jean Simmons). Estella mocks Pip's coarse manners at every opportunity, but Pip quickly falls in love with her. Once, he meets one of Miss Havisham's relations, Herbert Pocket (John Forrest), a boy about his age. Pip also bumps into Mr. Jaggers (Francis L. Sullivan), Miss Havisham's lawyer. The visits come to an end when Pip turns 14 and begins his apprenticeship as a blacksmith. Estella leaves also, to learn to become a lady.

    Six years later, Mr. Jaggers shows up and tells him that a mysterious benefactor has offered to turn Pip (played as an adult by John Mills) into a gentleman, one with "great expectations". Pip naturally assumes that it is Miss Havisham. He is taken to London where Mr. Jaggers arranges for Pip to stay with a grownup Herbert Pocket, who will teach him how to behave like a gentleman. From Herbert, Pip learns that Miss Havisham is embittered and her mind warped at being left at the altar many years ago; she is determined to avenge herself against all men, and Estella is to be her instrument of vengeance, a heartless creation to break men's hearts. Pip refuses to believe it.

    After Pip turns 21, a visit from Joe Gargery shows that Pip has become a snob, as evidenced by his ill-concealed irritation at Joe's clumsy manners. Joe brings a request from Miss Havisham to see her. There he is delighted to be reunited with Estella (Valerie Hobson), though she warns him point-blank, "You must know, Pip, I have no heart," but Pip does not believe it. She is about to enter London society. Estella and Pip spend much time together, though she flirts with many men, especially the unpopular, though wealthy and well-born Bentley Drummle, much to Pip's disgust. However, she confesses to Pip that though she flirts with Drummle, she has absolutely no feelings for him.

    Pip receives another visitor from the past. Magwitch appears and tells Pip that he is his patron, not Miss Havisham. Mr. Jaggers confirms the news, if indirectly, inasmuch as Magwitch has apparently been transported to Australia (where he made the fortune that has paid for Pip's refinement) and will be hanged if found in England. When Jagger's assistant, Mr. Wemmick, warns Pip that an old enemy (the other escapee at the beginning of the film) knows that Magwitch is in London, Pip makes preparations to smuggle the old man onto a packet boat and accompany him to the Continent.

    He goes to bid farewell to Estella and finds her with Miss Havisham. When pressed, she tells Pip that she is going to marry (and torment) Drummle. Pip affirms to Miss Havisham that she has gotten her revenge, at least on him; he loves Estella without hope. For the first time, Miss Havisham regrets her actions. After he leaves, a piece of coal dislodged from the fireplace sets her dress (her wedding dress) on fire. Pip hears her screams and smothers the flames with a rotting tablecloth, but is unable to save Miss Havisham.

    When Pip, Herbert and Magwitch row out to the packet boat, they are intercepted by the waiting police, tipped off by Magwitch's great enemy. Magwitch grapples with his nemesis, who is struck and killed by the vessel. Magwitch is seriously injured. The old man had previously spoken to Pip of his lost daughter. Pip's suspicions are aroused and then confirmed by Mr. Jaggers: she is Estella. Pip visits the dying Magwitch and tells him of her fate, and that he, Pip, is in love with her. Magwitch passes away, a contented man.

    Stricken by illness and with his expectations gone, Pip is taken home and nursed back to health by Joe Gargery. When he recovers, he revisits Miss Havisham's deserted house. There he finds Estella. When Mr. Jaggers told Drummle of her true parentage, he broke off the engagement. She inherited the house. Learning that Estella plans to live in seclusion just like her mentor, the alarmed Pip tears down the curtains and forces open the boarded-up windows; for the first time in years, sunlight lights the room, revealing cobwebs and dust. Pip forces Estella to look at it and tells her that he has never stopped loving her. After hesitating, she embraces him and they leave the house.

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