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David Lean's Best Movies: Box Set

Updated on October 22, 2014

David Lean's Best Movies: DVD Review

I've just bought a ten DVD set of movies, the David Lean Centenary Collection. Lean was one of British cinema's great directors in the Forties and Fifties. Films like Brief Encounter, Blithe Spirit and his Charles Dickens adaptations are considered classics these days. This page briefly reviews each of these and the others on the DVD

If you want to sit back and luxuriate in movie magic, get this David Lean Best Movies collection. Love and loss, sorrow and joy, fear and favour - Lean did them all like the master director he was. You'll probably know some of these films already: if there are any you haven't seen, do yourself a favour and put the cat out, get supplies in and settle down for a movie marathon.

Image: Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter

Best Movies By David Lean

Do they make them like this any more?

Enough: I Want It!

Ten DVDs and some nice extras in the box set. Please be aware: this is a Region 2 DVD.

tearoom scene from brief encounter
tearoom scene from brief encounter

Brief Encounter (1946)

David Lean's Best Movies #1

Poignant and touching: the tale of two people who meet by chance and begin a relationship, at first in a tearoom in a railway station. They continue to meet weekly, despite being married,

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard play the not-quite lovers with delicacy and complete believability. Their nearness, their problems, their never quite consumating the relationship, all contribute to a beautiful film and one with a memorable parting scene.

Miss Havisham: "Come nearer. Let me look at you. Come close. Look at me. You aren't afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since before you were born?"

great expectations lean pip estelle
great expectations lean pip estelle

Great Expectations (1946)

David Lean's Best Movies #2

David Lean's first Dickens adaptation. Great Expectations revolves around Pip, apparently a poor orphan, who is led to have great expectations of wealth and place in society.

Pip meets the chilly Estelle and the tragic, decaying figure of MIss Haversham. Miss Haversham's cobweb-draped life sticks in the memory but even that pales when compared with Pip's contact with the convict Magwitch in a Kent graveyard - a scene that Hitchcock would have been proud of.

oliver twait david lean collection
oliver twait david lean collection

Oliver Twist (1948)

David Lean's Best Movies #3

A second triumphant Dickens adaptation from David Lean, the story of the orphan Oliver Twist. Lean was extremely faithful to the book and the film benefited from that. Everybody knows the iconic scene where Oliver approaches the Beadle in the workhouse to ask for more gruel.and the manhunt for Bill Sykes showed the London of the era at its most squalid.

Fagin was played by Alec Guinness. Oliver was played by John Howard Davies who went on to become BBC Head Of Comedy.

blithe spirit lean séance
blithe spirit lean séance

Blithe Spirit (1945)

David Lean's Best Movies #4

Based on a play by Noel Coward, Blithe Spirit is a ghost story and a light comedy: Widowed Charles remarries and is happy with second wife Ruth until first wife Elvira decides to come and stay with them after a séance run by medium Madame Arcati. Three's definitely a crowd and the unhappy couple turn to Madame Arcati for help.

Stars Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings and Kay Hammond. Margaret Rutherford is on fine form as Madame Arcati..

hobsons choice lean laughton
hobsons choice lean laughton

Hobson's Choice (1954)

David Lean's Best Movies #5

Charles Laughton gloriously overplays his role as a tyrannical father and bootmaker in 19th century Salford. The beer-swilling Laughton refuses to let his three daughters marry - he doesn't want to pay marriage settlements and he likes having three unpaid housekeepers.

Eldest daughter Maggie rebels and sets her cap at meek Will Glossop, one of her father's workers. They marry and set up a successful rival business. Happy in her life, Maggie begins to plot similar success for her sisters.

The following clip shows Laughton in full flow, especially his walk home from the pub (about three minutes in).

In the clip below, the strange instrument you can hear is the musical saw, played by a Belgian café owner.

Charles Laughton And The Demon Drink

in which we serve lean
in which we serve lean

In Which We Serve (1942)

David Lean's Best Movies #6

A wartime film by David Lean, this is one that drags a huge range of emotions from its actors and us as watchers. It has a simple precept, that members of a society must fight to uphold that' society and it treats all its characters with sympathy and dignity.

Film schools cite this as an exemplary film: how each scene echoes its predecessor and presages the next scene. I'm less technical - it just makes for a film that flows beautifully while deaing with some very difficult concepts.

Scandal of its day: Lean dared to show the sinking of a British ship, in defiance of the patriotic fervour characterising most films of the era.

Written by, jointly directed by and starring Noel Coward, plus another fine performance by John Mills.

Medeleine: David Lean. Murder by arsenic?
Medeleine: David Lean. Murder by arsenic?

Madeleine (1949)

David Lean's Best Movies #7

This is based on a true story, that of Madeleine Smith, accused of murdering her lover in nineteenth century Glasgow.

Daughter of an upper middle class family, she proved reluctant to follow her parents' wish and marry a suitable bachelor. When Emile L'Angelier is poisoned suspicion rapidly turns to Madeleine and she is charged with murder.

I'll leave out further details so you can watch the trial, a gripping affair, for yourself.

passionate firneds hg wells lean
passionate firneds hg wells lean

The Passionate Friends (1949)

David Lean's Best Movies #8

Anne Todd plays a woman married to an older man (Claude Rains). Life is fine but dull when former lover Trevor Howard comes back into her life. The affair resumes during a holiday in the Alps.

Told in flashbacks, this is a fine depiction of British society of its class: the straitlaced Rains whose emotions only show off-camera, the urbane Howard and the torn Anne Todd (married to David Lean at the time).

Film is based on a work by H.G. Wells - one of his lesser known novels.

Anne Todd: Passionate Friends - A moment of weakness and despair

anne todd passionate  friends lean
anne todd passionate friends lean

The first aircraft to break the sound barrier was the Bell X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager of the United States Air Force in 1947.

de havilland comet jet lean
de havilland comet jet lean

The Sound Barrier (1952)

David Lean's Best Movies #9

The ultimate product placement film, this tells the tale of one man's obsession with speed and engineering. The product, in two senses of that word, is the De Havilland Comet jetliner - a miraculous development in its day.

Iconic scenes: the Comet flying to Egypt in record-breaking time, passing over the English Channel, the Alps, Ancient Greece and the Pyramids. Bear in mind that it was six years before a rival jet arrived on the market - this was a momentous development.

De Havilland Comet On Newsreel

this happy breed 1944 david lean
this happy breed 1944 david lean

This Happy Breed (1944)

David Lean's Best Movies #10

Adapted from a Noel Coward play, this would nowadays be called a kitchen sink drama. It explores the life of an ordinary family, settling into peace after World War I.

We pass through notable events like the British Empire Exhibition, the General Strike of 1926, the arrival of the Charleston - all feed into the lives of the extended family.

The Happy Breed is a warm-hearted film, stylish and well acted. You may not cower and you may not cry but you will be engaged.

Doctor Zhivago (45th Anniversary Edition)
Doctor Zhivago (45th Anniversary Edition)

I don't think I can add anyhting you don't already know - an epic film!

David Lean   IMDB
David Lean IMDB

David Lean on IMDB

For more info on David Lean's career, visit the Internet Movie Database David Lean section.

Do you like David Lean? - Any memories associated with one of his films?

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      5 years ago from Canada

      Oh I so hate to admit how little I watch the cinema but I have not seen a one of these films. It does look like I have missed out on some very classic action. My movie experience in the past was too often comic or cartoon movies I watch with my kids as they grew up (mind you laughter is good for the heart, lungs, and soul).

    • aviwolfson profile image

      Avi Wolfson 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      No but I do like older films. I am really interested in Hobson's Choice. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The first movie of David Lean, i saw was 'The Bridge on River Kwai' and since then, I have become his fan. I have seen , Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India, LOA, Oliver Twist, Great Escape and BRIEF ENCOUNTER, I would say, Brief encounter is the best ever romantic movie i have seen. The Script is great and so is the presentation, So sensible, poetic and it shows how love lossoms in most natural way.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I actually enjoy the old movies

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Of the David Lean movies on this list, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and Hobson's Choice are by far my favorites. Thanks for reminding me to watch them again. :-)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have seen the great David Lean's films Laurence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Bridge over River Kwai but these I don't think I've seen any of these. Looking forward to watching them.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have seen the great David Lean's films Laurence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Bridge over River Kwai but these I don't think I've seen any of these. Looking forward to watching them.

    • ismeedee profile image


      6 years ago

      Shamefully I've not seen any of these films. I love classic films but rarely get round to watching any. I saw Hiroshima, Mon Amour recently and watched a couple of Audrey Hepburns with my daughter. I'd love to watch some of these- particularly Brief Encounter.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I love watching old movies and David Lean sure made some great ones. I remember going to the movies to see Doctor Zhivago and thinking it was one of the best movies that I had ever seen.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Just came back for another look. Some of David Lean's works, like Brief Encounter, are still classics, and they take you back to a time when life was different.

    • Paul Ward profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      @Heather426: He did - his last film, He wrote the screenplay, directed and edited.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      6 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      I actually have not seen all of these you listed here. I remember him more for Dr. Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia! 2 of the first movies I ever saw that make me love film as an art form.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Just amazing the number (and variety) of great films that David Lean made. 'Lawrence of Arabia' probably just shades it for the sheer scale and visual feast, but 'Brief Encounter' and 'In Which we Serve' were also superb.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      6 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      And didn't he do A Passage to India too? I love that one too.

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 

      6 years ago from London

      I love them all. Laurence of Arabia was my first 'grown up' film experience when I was about 12...Have never forgotton the awe I experienced in those first opening moments. Brief Encounter...well there's enough for a very long thesis there...I could go on but enough to say, I think his stuff is amazing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great job on this lens. I love many older movie's My fav is It's a wonderful life and Casa Blanca

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      7 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I haven't seen half of these and then none of them for many years. Might be a good collection to acquire for some classic movie nights in this coming winter.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm a huge David Lean fan. A lot of people love his epic films, but I like the small-scale films. Hobson's Choice is my absolute favorite. I love the twists and turns in the characters lives and how they all interact and develop. David Lean can work on any scale and have it come out perfect.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 

      7 years ago

      Your Cupid's Kiss worth off from valentine's, so to find lenses to bless I returned to my Cupid's Kisses lens to re-bless -:)

    • beerhead profile image


      7 years ago

      Great job on this lens. I love many older movie's My fav is It's a wonderful life.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Didn't really know of this person, but looking at these photos of old movies, makes me miss yesterday - you did a great job with this lens


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