Five indisputably great David Lean pictures
THIS HAPPY BREED (1944) Though set in a humble south London household in the inter-war years, Lean’s adaptation of Noël Coward’s play has unexpected aspects – its scope; its ambition of the later epics – about it. Mike Leigh admits that the film was an influence on his Life is Sweet. BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945) Trevor Howard, a charismatic doctor, and Celia Johnson, a pinched housewife, pine over the teacakes in one of the great dramas of repressed passion. GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946) John Mills, playing the working-class boy made good, brings warmth to this flawless Dickens adaptation, but the film’s most memorable scenes tend towards gothic horror. Pip’s passage through the graveyard and Miss Havisham’s wretched demise still chill the blood. BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) The plot strand involving William Holden – a sop to producer Sam Spiegel – still feels somewhat bolted on. But Alec Guinness’s portrayal of a British officer driven close to madness by his own dedication to honour still has the power to
disconcert. What have I done? LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) Simultaneously a celebration of heroism and a meditation on the intoxicating power of slaughter, Lean managed to layer Lawrence’s abundant extravagant set pieces with real psychological acuity. Sadly, his subsequent extravaganzas seem empty by comparison.