What are the differences between the book Great Expectations and the movie?

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Out of all the film adaptations of Great Expectations, the 1946 David Lean version tends to receive the most celebration. The film is quite close to the spirit of the original novel, capturing the gothic tone with its black-and-white cinematography and leaving the major episodes of the novel intact. However, it does cut quite a bit of material, such as Biddy's subplot. The implications of the ending are also changed: Dickens ends his novel suggesting but never spelling out that Pip and Estella end up together. However, the movie makes it clear the two are now a romantic couple, with Pip declaring Estella is now free and the two embracing.

The 1998 Alfonso Cuaron movie sets the story in modern times and in the United States, applying the classic American Dream to Pip's yearnings instead of an acute awareness of social class. The plot mostly follows the same trajectory as the novel. However, there are a few differences. The Pip character, now named Finn, becomes a painter. His sister leaves Joe, which means Joe is left to raise Finn alone. Because of this, Mrs. Joe does not become brain-damaged as she does in the novel. The Mrs. Havisham character dies naturally rather than burns to death. Also, Pip and Estella have a sexual relationship.

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While there have been various movies made, two that most closely follow the narrative and characterization of Charles Dickens are the original production of 1946 (black and white) and the 2012 British film adaptation.

The 1946 version follows most closely the narrative of Great Expectations as, unlike other productions, it adheres to the characterizations made by Dickens; there is more development of these characters, and there are more minor characters in this film. For example, Mr. Wemmick is an actual presence and his father, Aged One, is in this film, providing comic relief. In the 2012 version, which is well done, but always somber, Wemmick makes only an appearance at Jaggers' office, and the humorous scenes at his home are omitted. No comic relief is provided by Joe Gargery, either, as is done in the 1946 version in which Joe awkwardly tries to act the gentleman when he unexpectedly visits Pip in London. He tries to balance his upturned hat on the fireplace, but instead juggles it for a minute or so, amusing Herbert. In addition, Bentley Drummle, Pip's rival and eventually Estella's husband, is only briefly in the film, in the dinner scene at Mr. Jaggers' house. The character of Jaggers is less developed and certainly less volatile in the modern version. The same is true for Uncle Pumblechook, who plays no real role in the newer film, when he was a source of comedy and ridicule in the 1946 film.

On the other hand, the 2012 production develops Estella well and has her analyze young Pip as she tells him in a created line before she goes away to school:

You imagine yourself a young knight from a child's story, tearing away the cobwebs . . . marrying the princess.

Another character who is more developed than in the novel and the 1946 version is Biddy. Yet, this character development in the 2012 film has authenticity because Biddy remains the same type of person as in the novel. Screenwriter David Nicholls effectively makes use of Biddy's character to assist in the development of Pip's character and the setting of his youth.

Miss Havisham is not as fully developed in the newer films as she is in the 1946 version, either, and she does not seem as human and contrite in the end as the Miss Havisham of the older film in her final scenes. However, the relationship that develops between Pip and his benefactor Magwitch is very well done in the modern version and there is great suspense with their actions near the end.

Since modern audiences are not accustomed to lengthy dialogues, newer films do not contain as many scenes that rely strongly on such dialogues.  So, whenever a film is made on a classic novel with a myriad of characters, there is usually a substitution of action for much of the dialogue. This substitution can mitigate the power of the film. This seemed to be the result for the 2012, which also suffered from being a rather maudlin.

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There are several different movie versions of Great Expectations. The 1946 version follows the book fairly closely, except some characters are left out, such as Orlick (the worker at the smith who probably attacks Pip's sister). In addition, in the movie, Estella gives Pip reason to think that she might eventually love him, while in the novel, Estella's last words to Pip are, "And we will continue friends apart" (page 484). In the novel, Estella never promises to love Pip, so the movie version made a large alteration in the story by suggesting that she did. 

There was also a 1998 movie with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow (set in contemporary times, which was very different from the book) and a 2012 movie of the book. The 2012 version featured Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch. This version restored several of the omissions of the 1946 version, including the complexity of characters such as Biddy and Joe. However, it didn't emphasize Pip's snobbery to the extent that the book did, particularly towards Joe, though it provided a more classic version of the book in film form. 

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