To mark the centenary of David Lean’s birth, August sees Glasgow’s GFT screen four classics from the first decade of his career while the Filmhouse will show a rather amazing fifteen of his sixteen films. Here, Paul Viltos looks at four of the films that show the range of the director’s talents.
Starting the Glasgow season, In Which We Serve (1942) introduces us to the crew of HMS Torrin, sunk off Crete by the Nazis, cling to a life-raft, while a series of flashbacks fills us in on their lives and on the last tense days in the life of the ship.
A stirringly effective work of wartime propaganda, the film insists on the need to all pull together in the war effort despite the divisions of class and rank it explores. Probably already strangely familiar from countless distracted TV viewings, the film deserves your full attention on the big screen. Lean co-directed In Which We Serve with Noël Coward, who also wrote and starred in the film.
Peculiar fact: Coward not only modelled the aristocratic naval officer he plays in the film on his friend Lord Dickie Mountbatten (later to be the last Viceroy of India), but actually borrowed Mountbatten’s hat for the role. The GFT screening on August 6 will be introduced by Mitch Miller, film critic and co-editor of The Drouth magazine.
Lean’s collaboration with Coward continued with This Happy Breed (1944). Lean’s first film as sole director is adapted from a Coward play and follows one family living in the South London suburbs from 1919 to 1939, as they experience the aftermath of the First World War, the General Strike and the build-up to the Second World War. An intimate and at times moving study of the effect of rapid social, technological and political change on one ‘ordinary’ family.
Very different in tone is Blithe Spirit (1945), Lean’s second adaptation of a Coward play. In Lean’s only outright comedy, a memorably loopy medium (played by Margaret Rutherford) manages to summon up the ghost of the hero’s first wife – to his dismay and that of his second wife. Coward himself was less than impressed with Lean’s efforts: “You’ve just f—-d up the best thing I ever wrote,” he is said to have informed the director.
Whatever Coward might have thought, it works well if you have even a moderate fondness for farce and whimsy, and there are some unexpectedly spooky moments too.
Also being screened in August is Brief Encounter (1945), which really needs no introduction. Celia Johnson. Trevor Howard. Clipped accents. A train station. Adulterous passion nobly suppressed. Based on another Coward play. Except that, like The Seventh Seal, this is a film so endlessly parodied and parody-able it’s a surprise to discover or rediscover how light of touch and self-aware the original film is.
The story clips along relentlessly. It has a surprising number of actual jokes, as well as moments of genuine tension. And even if you don’t have a lump in your throat by the end, the bizarrely stilted performances turned in by the film’s child actors remain hysterically compelling.
Other films being shown are:
- Great Expectations
- Oliver Twist
- The Sound Barrier
- Hobson’s Choice
- The Bridge on the River Kwai
- Lawrence of Arabia
- Doctor Zhivago
- Ryan’s Daughter
- A Passage to India
Visit the GFT website for full screening information.
Full Filmhouse information is available on their website soon.
Preview by Paul Vlitos