David Lean Directs Noel Coward – The Criterion Collection #603-606 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
March 20, 2012 by Dennis Amith
For any movie fan who have been captivated by the work of Noel Coward and David Lean, the “David Lean Directs Noel Coward” is one of those must-own Blu-ray or DVD sets that a cineaste and fans of British cinema would want in their collection. You get the best versions of these films to date and fantastic special features included as well.
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TITLE: David Lean Directs Noel Coward – The Criterion Collection #603-606
FILM RELEASE DATE: In Which We Serve (1942), The Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945) and Brief Encounter (1945)
DURATION: In Which We Serve (114 Minutes), The Happy Breed (111 Minutes), Blithe Spirit (96 Minutes) and Brief Encounter (86 Minutes)
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Color, Monaural , 1:37:1 Aspect Ratio
COMPANY: Janus Films/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: March 27, 2012
In the 1940s, the wit of playwright Noël Coward and the craft of filmmaker David Lean melded harmoniously in one of cinema’s greatest writer-director collaborations. With the wartime military drama sensation In Which We Serve, Coward and Lean (along with producing partners Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan) embarked on a series of literate, socially engaged, and enormously entertaining pictures that ranged from domestic epic (This Happy Breed) to whimsical comedy (Blithe Spirit) to poignant romance (Brief Encounter). These films created a lasting testament to Coward’s artistic legacy and introduced Lean’s visionary talents to the world.
The Criterion Collection’s release of “David Lean Directs Noel Coward” is possibly one of the most exciting box sets that I have been wanting to see in America for quite some time.
A legendary playwright, writer, filmmaker, actor, you name it…Noel Coward has probably done it. And it’s one thing that has made fans of his work so appreciative of this individual is because he brings so much life into his work.
As for David Lean, he’s already considered a legendary filmmaker. From directing “Lawrence of Arabia”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, “A Passage to India”, “Doctor Zhivago” to name a few… Both Noel Coward and David Lean are legendary for their highly acclaimed work in their oeuvre.
But you go further back to when David Lean first became a filmmaker, it’s because of Noel Coward, he was given the opportunity.
For both men, it would begin during World War II. Noel Coward who wanted to do something for the British public during the war and the fact that he was raised with a grandfather who was a Captain of the Royal Navy, Coward so much wanted to do something during wartime. Having worked with British Intelligence, there was no doubt that Coward wanted to do more.
And that opportunity would come in 1942 with the release of his British patriotic (and propaganda) film “In Which We Serve”. The film would feature Noel Coward as a lead actor but since he is a man that was only focused on directing certain parts of the film and action wasn’t his forte, what best than to bring highly regarded editor David Lean. David Lean got his first opportunity to co-direct the film with Noel Coward and both managed to create a film that was well-liked, praised very well not just in Britain but also in the United States and it earned Coward an Academy Award for “Outstanding Production Achievement).
And this would be the beginning of the working relationship between Noel Coward and David Lean (there is also a third man included in this and that is cinematographer Ronald Neame).
The two would once again reunite for “This Happy Breed”. A film adaptation based on Noel Coward’s 1939 play and for those who were enamored with Noel Coward’s 1933 film “Cavalcade” (directed by Frank Lloyd) about an upperclass British family from 1899 through 1933 (which covered the family through the Second Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and World War I), “This Happy Breed” would feature on a working class British family during 1919 through 1939.
As Coward was busy with his plays at the time, it gave David Lean the opportunity to direct his first solo film. “This Happy Breed” would also give Lean the chance to work (and experiment) with three-strip Technicolor and once again, the reception was favorable for this second collaboration.
The third collaboration between David Lean and Noel Coward was not as smooth as the first two films. Noel Coward wanted his comedy “Blithe Spirit” to become a film and David Lean, known as a serious person was reluctant in directing a comedy. While the film at the time was criticized for a film about “death” (or deceased love ones reappearing as ghosts), not many were wanting to see a film about that subject matter while many were dying during World War II.
Needless to say, both men have differing opinions on both films but both agreed that they should work again for another, more realistic film and that would “Brief Encounter”.
The film would captivate audiences as it would win the Grand Prize, the “Palme d’Or” at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. The film would also earn Celia Johnson an Academy Award nomination for “Best Actress”. Recognized as one of the top 100 British Films of All Time (#2 in the British Film Institute Poll), “Brief Encounter” would solidify David Lean’s filmmaking career (Noel Coward was already well-known worldwide).
And this popularity would lead David Lean to work on Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” and “Oliver Twist” and many other well-known films for the next three decades. But the popularity gained from “Brief Encounter” would lead both David Lean and Noel Coward to bigger things and the film would be their Magnum opus and their final collaboration together.
These four beloved films would receive new restoration in 2008 courtesy of BFI National Archives and in 2012, receive a special high definition remastering for Blu-ray release.
The Criterion Collection will be releasing these four films as part of the “David Lean Directs Noel Coward” Blu-ray and DVD Box Sets featuring many special features paying tribute to Noel Coward and also David Lean but most of all, paying tribute to their collaboration for these four films.
To read our review for the four films in the DVD box set, please click on the film:
[Note: The review is for the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" DVD Box Set]
There is no doubt that fans of Noel Coward and David Lean have been highly anticipating the “David Lean Directs Noel Coward” box set release.
These four films look absolutely incredible thanks to the restoration effort by BFI National Archive and watching these films today, no matter if they are over 70-years old they look fantastic. And if it’s one thing to look so great on DVD, I believe that the Blu-ray release of the “David Lean Directs Noel Coward” box set is fantastic.
But video and audio quality aside, the reason why I enjoyed this box set is because not only do you get four magnificent films but with each disc down to the booklet, the entire set pays its respect to both Noel Coward and David Lean.
From Barry Day’s insightful knowledge to the collaboration of both men, to documentaries featuring both men, interviews with cinematographer Ronald Neame who worked on all four films and many other special features included, the “David Lean Directs Noel Coward” is the definitive collection for any cineaste who enjoyed these four films.
Overall, for any movie fan who have been captivated by the work of Noel Coward and David Lean, the “David Lean Directs Noel Coward” is one of those must-own Blu-ray or DVD sets that a cineaste or fans of British cinema would want in their collection. You get the best versions of these films to date and fantastic special features included as well.
The Criterion Collection’s”David Lean Directs Noel Coward” is highly recommended!
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