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david lean
(1908-1991)

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lean



biography

    The most in-depth review of Brief Encounter...EVER!

    Everything to do with the film including locations, salaries...did Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard actually like each other?? Find out here.


Lean's fascination with the effect of natural environment on character and motivation led him to the wildest parts of the globe - a restless quest that was reflected in the powerful, contradictory emotions that swayed his protagonists....

David Lean was at once the most prestigious and most mysterious British film director; he was also perhaps the least understood, having had an unenviable reputation among the most influential British and American critics. Lean's films, especially his later ones, attracted huge audiences and won Academy Awards, yet the majority of commentators dismissed him as a brilliant technician without a personality, squandering needlessly inflated budgets on calculatedly tasteful spectacles. Rarely interviewed, Lean was widely regarded as remote and outmoded.

Lean was not a prolific director but preferred to be highly selective and to control every aspect of his productions; his perfectionist techniques were legendary, His last three films brought him much personal wealth, enabling him jealously to guard his privacy and left him free to travel extensively to research new projects. He was an intensely likeable man, very distinguished-looking, disarmingly modest about his own achievements and generous and perceptive in his praise of other people's.

lean

brief encounter
(1945)


A terrible beauty

By the mid-Eighties Lean had been forced to abandon his long-standing dream to re-make Mutiny on the Bounty (eventually directed by the New Zealander Roger Donaldson). Instead in 1984 he directed A Passage to India - another 'spectacular' tale. Both stories had themes concerned with the obligation on an individual to obey the dictates of a rigid discipline, but exposed the disintegration of that obligation when the individual was confronted with the terrible beauty of an exciting new environment - be it ocean or continent - and the desperate struggle for sanity and survival in it.

These were important keys to the meaning of Lean's work which, since his breakthrough film Brief Encounter (1945), dealt obsessively with the conflict between discipline and individualism, between a peculiarly British emotional reticience and Romantic excess. The widely contrasting locales of his later films - the jungle in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), the desert in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), the icy wastes of Doctor Zhivago (1965), the wild Irish coastline in Ryan's Daughter (1970) - were no mere pictorial backdrops. Lean's characters were shaped by their social and physical environments and were constantly in conflict with them. They were placed in necessarily alien, inhospitable and challenging landscapes that offered a source of escape and self-discovery.

lean

madeleine
(1950)


Lean's heroes and heroines were compulsive fantasists and fanatics, whether they were found in suburban railway stations, in decaying Victorian mansions, designing supersonic aircraft, on holiday in Venice, building bridges in Burma, forging myths from the sands of Arabia, or dreaming of escape from an Irish village torn apart by racial hatred and religion.

Running parallel to these assertive and tragic characters were the precisely delineated societies founded on class barriers, discipline, traditional values and moral complacency, all of which were challenged yet remained indomitable. Lean's was a deeply pessimistic vision, as evidenced by the fates of his characters: Laura in Brief Encounter (1946). renouncing love for drab security; Pip finding disillusionment in Great Expectations (1946); Mary, in The Passionate Friends (1949), driven, like Laura, to near-suicide and then a living death; Madeleine (1950) ostracized and condemned by the courts to spiritual limbo; Ridgefield, in Sound Barrier (1952), sacrificing a son for an obsession; Jane, in Summer Madness (1955), slipping back to her grey life; Nicolson, in The Bridge on the River Kwai , realizing, at the moment of his death, that the very quality that made him such a good leader - his iron fixedness of purpose - has made him a traitor to his country; Lawrence, in Lawrence of Arabia, destroyed by his own legend; Lara and Zhivago, in Doctor Zhivago, frozen into anonymity; Rosy Ayan, ostracized and damned, with a suicide and several shattered lives resting on her conscience. The few happy endings are equivocal, undermined by the compromises which make such endings possible.

lean

the passionate friends
(1949)


Lean's films were pessimistic, but never grim. He was first and foremost a master story-teller, an entertainer with a fine sense of drama and humour, an ironist - a poet and imagist, as his frequent collaborator the playwright and screen writer Robert Bolt called him.

Lean was born on March 25, 1908, in Croydon, Surrey, the son of a comfortably-off accountant whose strict Quaker principles led him to regard film-going as a sinful waste of time and money. But when Lean went to a boarding school at Reading he spent hours at the local cinemas and took up photography. After briefly following his father into accountancy, he was encouraged by his mother and an aunt to take a job as a teaboy and...continued

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    biography | filmography | doctor zhivago
    great expectations | lawrence of arabia
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    david lean
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