Creator: David Lean

"Who are you?"
Lawrence of Arabia, addressed to Lawrence by an uncredited David Lean.

Sir David Lean CBE (25 March 1908 16 April 1991) is one of the greatest English film-makers of the 20th Century, a two-time Academy Award winner for films like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. He is especially associated with the Epic Movie for good reason. He pioneered location shooting, large-scale use of extras and visual extravagance common to the Hollywood genre but raised to a level of sophistication thanks to the deeper storytelling (resulting from Lean's collaboration with excellent screenwriters like Robert Bolt), richer characterization and the use of landscape as part of the story and character. A Lean epic is commonly associated with Scenery Porn, gorgeous landscape shots, incredible action set-pieces, technical brilliance and amazing performances.

Lean was born to a Quaker family in Surrey and from very early in his career, he made films with a Brownie camera. He was The Movie Buff as a young man who adored the films of King Vidor, William Wyler and John Ford. He eventually worked in British film studios and found his calling as an editor, including the famous George Bernard Shaw adaptions of Pygmalion (1937) and Major Barbara (1941) as well as films with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. He edited 49th Parallel and One of Our Aircraft Is Missing and Powell would consider Lean the best editor he worked with.

Lean made his directorial debut with the adaptation of Noel Coward's In Which We Serve and later found his Breakthrough Hit with Brief Encounter regarded as the quintessential British Wartime Romance and an instant classic. He later found fame with adaptations of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, his first films with favorite actor Alec Guinness. His first Epic Movie is The Bridge on the River Kwai for which he won an Oscar for Best Director, and then won a second Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia.

His production pace slowed to a halt after that and critics generally found that his later films lacked the spirit of these films, despite the fact that Doctor Zhivago was a box-office success. This was also a time where the Epic Movie went out of fashion. The scathing reviews accorded to Ryan's Daughter reportedly discouraged Lean from making films for over a decade, though in reality he spent the '70s working on several failed projects, notably a remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (which eventually mutated into The Bounty, a much smaller-scale project helmed by a different director).

In 1984, Lean's reputation was revived by A Passage to India, which received universal critical acclaim and respectable box office. The 1989 restoration and re-release of Lawrence of Arabia also enhanced his stature. In the final years of his life, he had planned a comeback with an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo, it took him several years to get the funding, cast and crew in place, and then he died a few weeks before production began.

Lean is regarded as one of the greatest film-makers of all time and counts the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick and others among his Big Name Fans.

Selected Filmography