David Lean

Sir David Lean was an English film director, producer, screenwriter and editor, best remembered for his big-screen historical epics. Lean was born by Quakers in Croydon, Surrey (now part of Greater London), and at the age of ten Lean began to take up a hobby in printing and film developing when his uncle gave him a Brownie box camera for a gift. Lean spent every evening in the cinema, and in 1927, after an aunt had advised him to find a job he enjoyed doing, he went to Gaumont Studios where his obvious enthusiasm earned him a month’s trial without pay. His first work as a director was in collaboration with Noël Coward on In Which We Serve (1942), and he later adapted several of Coward’s plays into successful films; most famously his romantic drama Brief Encounter in 1945. Two celebrated Charles Dickens adaptations followed – Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948) – and were the first films directed by Lean to star actor Alec Guinness, whom Lean considered his “good luck charm”. Before Lean’s films grew to epic length and scope, his early British films like Hobson’s Choice (1954) were more tighter and smaller character stories, shot in stark black and white, and helped define British postwar moviemaking. Summertime (1955) marked a new departure for Lean as it was partly American financed, filmed in technicolor and shot entirely on location in Venice. Lean’s films now began to become infrequent, but much larger in scale, and more extensively released internationally. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) recounted the story of British and American prisoners of war trying to survive in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. The film became the highest grossing film of 1957, in the United States and won several Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Director. After extensive location work in the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and elsewhere, Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia was released in 1962, and is now considered one of the greatest films ever made. It was the first project of Lean’s with a screenplay by playwright Robert Bolt, recounting the life of T. E. Lawrence, the British officer who united the peoples of the Arab peninsula to fight in the Great War. The film turned actor Peter O’Toole into a international star and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Lean’s second win for Best Director. And yet Lean had his greatest box office success with Doctor Zhivago in 1965, a romance set during the Russian Revolution, as it ended up walking away with five Academy Awards. Lauded by directors including Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, Lean was voted 9th greatest film director of all time in the British Film Institute Sight & Sound poll of 2002. Nominated seven times for the Academy Award for Best Director, he remains the only British director to win more than one Oscar for directing, and was awarded the AFI Lifetime Achievement award in 1990.

David Lean
David Lean Featured Films
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Articles and Essays on David Lean

Brief Encounter (1945)

Its starts with the horn from the sound of an incoming train. In the dining refreshment room of the railway station there are two people sitting together without words but there facial expressions say it all. Both are happily married, in their mid-thirties and each have two children. They are waiting for the sad and final […]

David Lean