David Lean was born in Croydon, England. He was educated at the Royal College of Art and worked as an illustrator and cartoonist before entering the film industry in 1924.

After making a short silent film, Lean joined Archie Mayo’s production unit at Gainsborough Pictures. He then worked for Goldwyn Pictures, working on The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) with Katharine Hepburn.

Who Is David Lean?

Lean would return again to this location in later films like The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

He also made Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1950).

Best David Lean Films

David Lean’s best films are a series of masterpieces, each one more memorable than the last.

His ability to capture the essence of a character through naturalistic acting and subtle cinematography is unparalleled in any other film-maker.

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 epic adventure film produced and directed by David Lean.

It is based on the 1926 novel Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence, and portrays his experiences during World War I as a British Army officer. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards,

including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Peter O’Toole), winning five. It also won BAFTA Awards for Best Cinematography and Art Direction-Set Decoration; in addition to winning three Golden Globes and eight BAFTAs from over 35 nominations.

The film was shot on location in Jordan, Spain and Italy before extensive back-projection sequences were filmed in one long continuous shot incorporating optical effects by John Box that were developed by EMI’s Ralph Raimi, who won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the 1964 Academy Awards ceremony.

O’Toole’s role has been characterised as one of his greatest roles in which he played an anti-war hero who opposed mechanisation of warfare; although this is disputed due to Manchester standing up for mechanisation.

The film has gained worldwide

Lawrence Of Arabia
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Sam Spiegel (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

2. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

The Bridge on the River Kwai is most likely David Lean’s best-known film, and for good reason. It was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won one of them, Best Cinematography (John Alcott).

This historical drama takes place during World War II in Burma, when British prisoners of war are forced to build a bridge over the River Kwai. The construction site becomes a living hell as the prisoners are beaten, starved and worked to death.

The story itself is certainly not new; it’s been told many times before in books and films. But it’s still compelling because it has such an epic scale, with thousands of characters all working together towards a common goal that has no clear end in sight.

This is one of Lean’s most ambitious films ever made, with elaborate sets and elaborate costumes designed by Roland Crinall. In addition to this classic film, we’ll be screening Lean’s other Oscar-nominated films Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).

Bridge on the River Kwai, The
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Alec Guinness, William Holden, Jack Hawkins (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Sam Spiegel (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

3. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

In a voiceover, the camera pans across the Russian landscape, focusing on a river and its banks. The camera pulls back, revealing a large village where horse-drawn carts are being loaded with grain. A man is walking along the river bank, carrying his child in his arms.

The camera pulls back even further and we see a group of men sitting around a camp fire talking about revolution and the future of Russia. One of them says that “the people want to change.”

The scene shifts to Moscow where we see Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) walking down a street while reading a book in which he’s written notes on it. He enters a building where he has an appointment with his doctor, who tells him that he’ll need to rest for a few days before returning to work as an ophthalmologist again.

Yuri is shocked by this news, having been working very hard since he left home to study medicine at university. He asks if there’s anything else that might be wrong with him besides his eyesight; the doctor says there’s nothing else wrong with him except for “a little weakness in your heart,” but that it’s temporary anyway

Doctor Zhivago
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Robert Bolt (Writer) - Carlo Ponti (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

4. Brief Encounter (1945)

 If you’re looking for a cinematic love story that will make you cry, look no further than Brief Encounter. This 1945 film has been called one of the most beautiful movies ever made, and it’s easy to see why.

The story follows Laura (played by Celia Johnson) as she visits her friend, who is married with children. While they are out together, they meet an older gentleman named Alec (played by Trevor Howard). They spend the day together at a train station and then later on in his home.

Alec is a very wealthy man who is having an affair with his landlady’s daughter. He leaves Laura to go back to his wife after they have sex, but she refuses to leave without him. As he walks away from their encounter, she decides not to leave without him and instead stays behind with him for dinner and drinks.

It’s a small moment in this movie that has become iconic for many reasons — mainly because it shows how human nature can be flawed even when we think we’re doing the right thing or following our hearts. It also shows what love really means by showing two people going against society’s rules so that they can be together for one night only

Brief Encounter
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Cyril Raymond (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - David Lean (Writer) - Noëaut (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

5. Great Expectations (1946)

A young boy named Pip, growing up in the early 19th century, is orphaned at a young age. His guardian, Miss Havisham, sends him to live at the home of her eccentric sister-in-law, Estella. There,

he meets and becomes friends with a girl named Estella, who has just been abandoned by her lover. She persuades Pip to try to find out what happened to Estella’s old sweetheart.

Pip eventually discovers that Estella has been using him as a pawn in an elaborate game of revenge against her former sweetheart, Magwitch. He returns to Miss Havisham’s house only to find that she has died and left him all of her money.

Pip goes on to become one of the wealthiest men in England, but he lives on borrowed time as he slowly loses touch with reality due to his wealth and his reliance on opium addiction.

Great Expectations
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • John Mills, Tony Wager, Valerie Hobson (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Anthony Havelock-Allan (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

6. Oliver Twist (1948)

 David Lean’s 1948 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is one of the most visually striking and rigorous of the director’s films. It’s also a little uneven, but Lean’s strong sense of storytelling holds it together.

The movie is based on the novel, which was published in 1837 and is less grim than some of Dickens’ other works (of which there are several).

It tells the story of an orphaned boy (John Howard Davies) whose life changes when he falls into the clutches of pickpockets led by Fagin (Dennis Price). The child becomes a thief, but eventually manages to escape from Fagin’s grasp and to become essentially a good person.

Lean’s direction is superb; he gives us scenes that are both lyrical and disturbing, ones that feel real even though they’re set in a fantasy world where everyone is happy-go-lucky and everything has its place.

He also gives us great performances from his actors; Davies gives an especially good performance as Oliver Twist. The supporting cast includes Alec Guinness, Irene Browne and Eric Portman.

Oliver Twist (1948)
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • David Lean (Director) - David Lean (Writer) - Ronald Neame (Producer)
  • (Playback Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

7. Hobson’s Choice (1954)

Hobson’s Choice is a British drama film directed by David Lean and starring Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, and Brenda De Banzie. It tells the story of a Victorian-era factory owner who hires his employee to marry his daughter.

The film was nominated for seven Oscars at the 11th Academy Awards in 1955, including “Best Picture” and “Best Director”. It was also nominated for three Golden Globe Awards in 1955, including “Best Picture”. In 2004 it was ranked #35 on the BFI’s top 100 British films list.

David Lean directed Hobson’s Choice as his second feature film after Brief Encounter (1945). The screenplay was written by Lean’s frequent collaborator Robert Bolt, who also co-wrote Lawrence of Arabia (1962) with him.

The film was shot in England on location with some scenes shot on soundstages at Pinewood Studios, which had been converted from studios used during World War II.

Hobson's Choice
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Charles Laughton, John Mills, Brenda De Banzie (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Norman Spencer (Writer) - Norman Spencer (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

8. The Passionate Friends (1949)

The passion of friendship is the most powerful force in the world. It is a force that can lift you to great heights and bring you to your knees. It can make you laugh, it can make you cry.


But above all else, it can make you feel like nothing else matters but your friends. There is something magical about being around people who care about each other so much that they’re willing to be there for each other in any way possible.

The Passionate Friends is a film adaptation of Cyril Connolly’s novel The Middle Years, which tells the story of Harry Beaumont (David Lean), a man whose life has spiraled out of control after he loses his fortune and all his possessions at the hands of his unscrupulous business partner.

Harry has been living with his mother (Margaret Rutherford) since he was a boy and now that she’s sick and dying, he has nowhere else to go except back home with her. When Harry returns home one day, he finds that his mother has gone missing, leaving only

The Passionate Friends
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ann Todd, Trevor Howard, Claude Rains (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - David Lean (Writer) - Eric Ambler (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

9. Money for Speed (1933)

David Lean’s first film, and a forerunner of the great director’s later work. He was just 23 at the time. The story revolves around an ex-pilot who leads a gang of car thieves and takes over the town bank. A young man in love with his sweetheart (played by a young Greer Garson) is caught up in their affairs as well as his own troubles with the law.

The film won an Academy Award for Best Director and Best Cinematography, and it’s easy to see why. It has a great sense of period detail, including cars from the 1920s through WWII that are still running smoothly today.

You can hear them roar onscreen. The main character is played by Robert Newton, who would go on to play Inspector Clouseau in many comedies over the next few decades (including The Pink Panther).

It’s also an early example of Lean using music in his films even if it doesn’t have much to do with the plot. In this case, it’s Rachmaninoff’s “Polka Dot Rose” as played on piano by Jack Buchanan (who would go on to play Winston Churchill in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington).

10. Ryan’s Daughter (1970)

 David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter is a beautiful, moving and deeply affecting film. It’s one of the great films of its time, but Lean has always been auteurist in his choices: not just the choice to use color or not but also the choice of actors and the way they are used.

This is a film about how we can be impacted by our parents, whether directly or as an echo.

The story is simple: a young woman named Joan (Jennifer Jones) marries into a rich family whose son Ryan (Burt Lancaster) has been absent for most of her life.

His mother Joan doesn’t want him to marry her daughter because of the money she will bring into their family; however, Ryan loves Joan and thinks she could help him out financially if only she would let him court her.

Ryan’s Daughter is filled with wonderful performances from all involved, particularly from Jones and Lancaster. The two play off each other beautifully and captivate us as they try to figure out what it means to be in love with someone who doesn’t know you exist until you are standing right in front of them

Ryan's Daughter
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, John Mills (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Robert Bolt (Writer) - Anthony Havelock-Allan (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

11. A Passage to India (1984)

The film is based on the story of Lt. Col. Dyer, who ordered his troops to fire on a peaceful crowd of Indians in Amritsar during the partition of India. The film is an adaptation of the book by E.M. Forster, which was published in 1924 and was also released by Warner Bros. in 1926 as an epic film, starring Lionel Barrymore and Greta Garbo.

In this movie, Anthony Hopkins plays the commanding officer who orders the firing on unarmed civilians; he is played by Meryl Streep in the original version of the play and by Ben Kingsley in this movie.

The first part of A Passage to India takes place during World War I where British army officer Ronald Merrick (Vernon Dobtcheff) arrives at Simla with his wife Laura (Maggie Smith),

their son John (Hugh Grant), Laura’s sister Muriel (Diana Rigg) and her husband Dr. Bronson (James Fox). The family has been posted there because Merrick’s father-in-law Cecil Beadle (Rex Harrison) has been appointed to run post office there during World War I. As well as working for Cecil Bead

A Passage To India
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Davis, James Fox (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - David Lean (Writer) - John Brabourne (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

12. Summertime (1955)

 Summertime is a 1955 drama film directed by David Lean and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Van Heflin, and Katharine Hepburn. The screenplay by Robert Ardrey was based on the short story of the same name by Truman Capote. It received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

The film tells the story of an unhappily married couple who take a vacation to the country where they meet a young woman who becomes their surrogate daughter. A romantic triangle develops between them.

The film was shot at locations in and around the village of Holmfirth in West Yorkshire, England; it was released to cinemas on 12 August 1955.

In his review for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther described Summertime as “a film that has all the charm of its stars,” noting that “it is hard to think of a musical number that has more magic than Miss Hepburn’s dancing.”

  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Katherine Hepburn, Rossano Brazzi, Darren McGafin (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - H. E. Bates (Writer) - Ilya Lopert (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

13. In Which We Serve (1942)

In which we serve. That was the title of this war movie, a message from the British people to their government that they should be working for victory over Nazi Germany.

The movie was made during World War II, and so it had to deal with the very real consequences of civilian life being interrupted by war. No one could be spared from work or duty, even if their husband or son were fighting overseas.

Many women were forced into factory labor, and many men were called up for military service. The film shows how these changes affect people’s lives, both at home and in the workplace, as well as how they make them feel about each other.

The film begins with an elderly woman sitting alone on a bench in a park. She smiles at us when she sees us looking at her; she seems happy at our attention. Then she gets up and walks away; we see her go into a building and then out again carrying some books under her arm.

We never see her again until after the credits roll; we have no idea what has happened to her between shots except that she is old enough to have lived through World War I (which lasted from 1914 to 1918). We do not know why she is sitting alone

In Which We Serve - 1942
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Noel Coward (Director) - Noel Coward (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

14. Blithe Spirit (1945)

David Lean’s Blithe Spirit is a delightfully funny film. It’s also a rather serious, somber film about the loss of traditional values and the struggle of people to maintain their identity in modern times.

The story centers on a young woman named Sylvia who has been brought up by her aunt and uncle after the death of her father. While living with them she is taught to be polite and well-behaved, but it doesn’t take long for her to rebel against this way of life.

When she falls in love with a painter named Charles Condomine, his family disapproves of their relationship and refuses to let them marry. Because Charles’s family owns an estate called Blithe Field, they believe that Sylvia will only marry there under protest.

Sylvia’s mother agrees with this plan because she wants her daughter to have an opportunity for happiness that she never had: marriage to an artist like Charles.

Sylvia eventually marries Charles anyway and lives happily ever after at Blithe Field until one day when he suffers a paralyzing illness that leaves him unable to paint or even speak clearly anymore. After this tragedy occurs, Sylvia decides to sell Blithe Field so that they can move away from

Blithe Spirit
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond (Actors)
  • Lean,David (Director) - Noël Coward (Writer) - Noël Coward (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

15. This Happy Breed (1944)

The film’s title is a play on the title of a novel by George Orwell, and refers to the new breed of people who have been created by science. The film was made in response to a request from the Ministry of Information for a film on “new men”, who were seen as being more efficient than their predecessors.

The film was shot at Denham Studios between October 1943 and January 1944, then at Shepperton Studios between February and March 1944. It was directed by David Lean, who had been working at Denham Studios since 1942 when he began his career as an assistant director under Michael Balcon.

Lean had wanted to make this film since he saw a poster advertising it in Italy before World War II broke out, but it took him two years to persuade producer Michael Balcon to allow him to make it.

Though Lean had made several films with Michael Balcon previously, This Happy Breed is the only one that Balcon actually appears in (as well as being responsible for making it). It was also Lean’s first work as director; before this he had only been an assistant director or production manager on films such as Great Expectations (1946), The Way Ahead (1944) and Brief Encounter (1945

This Happy Breed [1944] [DVD]
  • Polish Release, cover may contain Polish text/markings. The disk has English audio.

16. Major Barbara (1941)

Major Barbara (1941) is one of the best British films ever made. It’s also an example of how a film like this can be made well in the midst of wartime conditions. The film was released during World War II, and it’s evident that many of the scenes were filmed in a studio, but much of the material was shot outdoors, on location.

This is a story about two young lovers who fall in love through their shared love of music. They meet at a dance hall, where they both go to hear some music. They soon become friends, and then more than friends, as they gradually learn more about each other.

The film is divided into two parts: Part One takes place over one night at a dance hall; Part Two takes place over several days as Major Barbara travels around England with her uncle George (Sidney James), who has been assigned to train new recruits for the war effort.

Major Barbara
  • Major Barbara ( George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara )
  • Major Barbara
  • George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara
  • Wendy Hiller, Rex Harrison, Robert Morley (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Anatole de Grunwald (Writer) - Gabriel Pascal (Producer)

17. Madeleine (1950)

David Lean was born in London to an Anglo-Irish father, who was the son of a wealthy family of the Cornish copper miners. The family moved to India when he was very young, and he spent his early years there. He went to school in Poona, where he developed a love for cricket.

He became a talented athlete and represented Poona at cricket, football and hockey. At the age of 13 he returned to England and enrolled at St Paul’s School, London.

He graduated from there with a degree in architecture in 1931. While still at college he got his first job with Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government as an architect designing houses for British soldiers stationed abroad.

In 1933 he began studying painting part-time at the Slade School of Fine Art under Henry Tonks and William Coldstream, particularly under Walter Sickert and David Bomberg. These influences would continue throughout his career as an artist and writer.

He began writing film scripts starting with Luxury Liner (1937), based on his experiences as an architect designing ocean liners during World War II for the Ministry of Transport; it starred Robert Donat

  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ann Todd, Norman Wooland, Ivan Desny (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Nicholas Phipps (Writer) - Stanley Haynes (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

18. The Sound Barrier (1952)

The story of the first transatlantic flight, this film is about Sir Alan Cobham and his team at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. It’s based on the true story of the first crossing of the Atlantic by an aircraft, the Fairey Gannet.

The film was made in cooperation with the Fairey Aviation Company, who funded one third of its production costs. This helped to make it a commercial success, and also gave them an opportunity to demonstrate their new Sea Hawk fighter in action against German bombers over English skies.

The Sea Hawk acted as a decoy for RAF fighters during attacks on Germany, but unfortunately it was too late to be used during Operation Chastise – the raid on Cologne (Operation Hurricane).

The film won three Oscars: Best Cinematography (George Finney), Best Film Editing (Owen Marks), and Best Sound Recording (Leslie Orme). It was also nominated for Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium but lost out on both occasions.

The Sound Barrier
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ralph Richardson, Ann Todd, Nigel Patrick (Actors)
  • David Lean (Director) - Terence Rattigan (Writer) - David Lean (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

19. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

This film, based on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, tells the story of Jesus Christ’s life over a period of six years. It was released in 1965 and won 4 Oscars including Best Art Direction, Cinematography (John F. Seitz), Costume Design, and Sound.

It also won a BAFTA for Best Film from any Source in 1965. The film is based on the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The film retells stories from each Gospel but focuses mainly on Christ’s ministry and death on the cross at Calvary.

It was directed by David Lean who had previously made Lawrence of Arabia (1962) which won him an Oscar for best director. The film features many notable actors including Alec Guinness as Pontius Pilate; Robert Burton as James;

John Gielgud as Herod; Dirk Bogarde as Judas Iscariot; Maurice Evans as King Herod; Peter Ustinov as Caiaphas; Peter Cushing as Simon Peter; Leo McKern as Joseph of Arimathea; Edward Fox as Nicodemus;

The Greatest Story Ever Told [Blu-ray] [1965] [US Import]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Various (Actor)
  • Various (Director)
  • English, French (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)

Characteristics of David Lean Films

 David Lean is one of the most successful and respected film directors in history. He has directed films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai and Doctor Zhivago,

which have won him numerous awards including an Oscar. His films are characterized by their excellent camera work, powerful performances and sensitive treatment of the subject matter.

Lean was born in England in 1907 and studied at Oxford University where he became interested in theatre. After graduating, he worked for several years as a stage actor before turning to directing films.

His first major success came with Brief Encounter (1945), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. He followed this with many other films including The Sound Barrier (1952), Ryan’s Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984).

David Lean’s films are characterized by their excellent camera work, powerful performances and sensitive treatment of the subject matter.

Best David Lean Films – Wrapping Up

David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia is a classic for a reason. It’s a film that not only stands the test of time, but also continues to be relevant today.

With its sweeping desert vistas, sweeping romantic scenes and an unforgettable lead performance by Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia has been called one of the greatest love stories ever told.

It’s hard to imagine another director who could have brought this complex story to life as well as Lean did. The film won seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography (Black-and-White).

David Lean was born in England in 1907 and moved to India with his parents when he was three years old; he studied at St Xavier’s High School in Bombay (now Mumbai) before moving back to London with his family at age 12.

After studying architecture at Edinburgh University, he took up acting and writing which eventually led him back to India where he would later be commissioned by the British Army during World War II to make propaganda films for them while serving as an officer in India’s Indian Army. 


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