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Thursday February 29th 2024

Great Expectations | 1946

Great Expectations (1945) film location: St Paul's Cathedral, London
Great Expectations (1945) film location: Pip arrives in London: St Paul's Cathedral, London

David Lean’s heightened style and the striking black-and-white imagery make this one of the greatest screen adaptations of Charles Dickens.

The novel is set largely in Kent but much of the movie was filmed, like so many classic British films of the Thirties and Forties, in Alexander Korda’s since-demolished Denham Studios, which stood in the village of Denham, Buckinghamshire.

The opening scenes are St Mary’s Marshes on the south side of the Thames Estuary, north of St Mary Hoo, Kent.

For the film, the forge of Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles) was built about a mile inland from here. The house was based on The Old Forge on Chalk Lane in the village of Chalk, east of Gravesend, Kent. It still exists and is now Grade II-listed.

Likewise, ‘Satis House’, the home of Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), was based on Rochester’s Restoration House, 17-19 Crow Lane. The mansion was recreated back at Denham Studios.

The name ‘Restoration House’ comes from the legend that Charles II stayed here the night before he was restored to the throne in 1660. It’s now Grade I-listed.

The ‘Rotterdam Paddle Steamer’ was filmed on the River Medway. ‘Gravesend Pier’, where Pip (John Mills) and Herbert Pocket (Alec Guinness) arrange to meet Magwitch (Finlay Currie) to help him escape to the continent, was filmed at Chatham Historic Dockyard, Chatham, about 35 miles southeast of London, in Kent.

Chatham has since been seen in Les Misérables, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, in Mr Holmes with Ian McKellen as the ageing sleuth, in Suffragette and even as the port of ‘Giza’ in the 1999 version of The Mummy.

The arrival of Pip in London was filmed in front of the real St Paul’s Cathedral. The shots had to be angled dramatically to exclude modern buildings and the catastrophic bomb damage of the surrounding area following WWII.