David Lean

By Melanie Williams

David Lean


  • Paperback

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1084-8
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: May 2016
  • BIC Category: Film and Media, Individual film directors, film-makers, PERFORMING ARTS / Individual Director, The arts / Individual film directors, film-makers
  • Series: British Film-Makers


'A rule of mine is this', said William Goldman in 1983, 'there are always three hot directors and one of them is always David Lean.' One of the best known and most admired of British film makers, David Lean had a directorial career that spanned five decades and encompassed everything from the intimate black-and-white romance of Brief Encounter (1945) to the spectacular Technicolor epic of Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

This book offers comprehensive coverage of every feature film directed by Lean, yielding new insights on the established classics of his career as well as its lesser-known treasures. Its analysis prioritises questions of gender and emphasises the often-overlooked but highly significant recurrence of female-centred narratives throughout Lean's career. Drawing extensively on archival historical materials while also presenting nuanced close readings of individual films, David Lean offers a fascinating and original account of the work of a remarkable British film maker.


This valuable and enjoyable book serves as a useful reminder for those of us exploring the obscurer reaches of British cinema that there are major landmarks out there which we would be unwise to ignore.

'Financial pressures, plus the sheer proliferation of film books, mean that libraries have to be more selective now than in the past. All one can say is that this book on David Lean should be a high priority. Librarians and department heads, please note... The book constitutes an excellent guide for retracing and reassessing Lean's career from start to finish... Williams clinches her argument with a confident final chapter entitled 'Feminising the Epic'. Anyone writing or teaching about Lean from now on will need to take into account that argument, and her readings of individual films across four decades... this book is as important as Brownlow's, and forms an ideal companion to it.'
Charles Barr, Viewfinder

'One might wonder if another book on Lean's films is really necessary. Williams proves that it is... Williams' enthusiasm for Lean's films makes her a persuasive advocate and she argues cogently and intelligently... her assessments are always acute and even when one disagrees with her judgement there's enough to give pause for thought and reconsideration. This valuable and enjoyable book serves as a useful reminder for those of us exploring the obscurer reaches of British cinema that there are major landmarks out there which we would be unwise to ignore.'
Robert Murphy, Journal of British Cinema and Television

'Williams sets out to refute the common view of Lean as an "essentially cold" director. On the contrary, she detects in his films a strong emotional undercurrent and, rather unexpectedly, a distinct feminine angle in much of his work... drawing worthwhile attention to several of his lesser known films.'
Philip Kemp, Sight and Sound

'In this convincingly argued text, the author redresses the balance of previous books on the director... Williams' volume is an essential addition to the publishers' British Film Makers series, which has mostly been confined to cinema's lesser luminaries. Ultimately she argues convincingly and accessibly for the reconsideration of Lean.'
Elaine Lennon, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television


1. Cutting and coward: David Lean's early career and In Which We Serve (1942), This Happy Breed (1944) and Blithe Spirit (1945)
2. Nineteenth century blues: Great Expectations (1946), Oliver Twist (1948), Madeleine (1950) and Hobson's Choice (1954)
3. Women in love: Brief Encounter (1945), The Passionate Friends (1949) and Summer Madness (1955)
4. Men of Vision: The Sound Barrier (1952), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
5. Feminising the epic: Doctor Zhivago (1965), Ryan's Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984)
Select Bibliography


Melanie Williams is Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia

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