Best Movies by Farr: Leaner David Lean

March 30, 2011 | John Farr

David Lean is known for his sprawling epics, like this week’s Reel 13 classic Doctor Zhivago, but here John Farr recommends a few of his earlier, tighter works.

Brief Encounter (1945)


Based on a play by Noel Coward, this is the simple, wrenching tale of two people married, but not (maddeningly) to each other, who meet by chance in a train station and embark on a short, intense romance. We can tell Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) is an honorable sort, and Laura Jesson seems settled and content in her married life, so their sudden, very powerful feelings for each other throw them both for a considerable loop. How they navigate these tumultuous emotions and regain their equilibrium forms the heart of the story.


This subtle, heartfelt British gem will still drench most anyone’s Kleenex nearly seven decades after its release. Performances by Howard and Johnson are impeccable; she was rightly Oscar-nominated for her restrained, all too believable performance as a loyal wife bewildered by emotions she thought long dead. Direction and script, both of which received Oscar nods as well, are suitably understated, and the use of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto throughout the film further heightens the sentiment. Even with the British reserve much in evidence, the overall effect is intensely moving. Don’t miss this one.

Great Expectations (1946)


In British director Lean’s superb rendering of the Dickens classic, we follow the changing fortunes of Pip, an orphan who reaches young manhood (as John Mills), only to discover he has an anonymous benefactor intent on making him a real gentleman. With his new friend Herbert Pocket (Guinness), Pip sets out to make his mark in bustling, 19th-century London. But just who is Pip’s mysterious sponsor?


Perhaps the finest Dickens adaptation ever, this rich, fascinating film about chance encounters and changing fortunes begins with a nerve-rattling sequence in a graveyard that’s one of the finest moments in British film. Both Mills and Guinness are a trifle old for their roles, but their virtuosity fully compensates. Guinness, in his first significant screen appearance, is particularly striking as pocket, giving us a tantalizing taste of things to come. A bona-fide classic.

Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

©2018 WNET All Rights Reserved.   825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019