David Lean Collection

Scope and Content

Documents relating to the work of film director, David Lean. This collection contains items relating to projects he worked on from 1942 to 1991 including: 'In Which We Serve', 'Brief Encounter', 'Oliver Twist', 'The Bridge On The River Kwai', 'Lawrence of Arabia', 'Ryan's Daughter', and 'A Passage to India'.

Administrative / Biographical History

David Lean (born Croydon, England, 25/3/1908, died 16/4/1991). David Lean started out his film career working as an editor, his credits included: As You Like It (1936), Pygmalion (1938), Major Barbara (1941) and 49th Parallel (1941). His first attempt at directing was in collaboration with Noel Coward on In Which We Serve (1942), he subsequently went on to direct three more Coward productions: This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945) and Brief Encounter (1945). During this period, Lean formed his own Production Company called Cineguild, along with Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock - Allan; which was responsible for producing, along with the later Coward films, film adaptations of the Charles Dickens novels: Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), as well as a number of others, Cineguild was disbanded in 1950.

Lean then entered into collaboration with Columbia - Horizon, directing The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), both with Sam Spiegel as producer. Whilst working on Lawrence of Arabia, Lean met Robert Bolt who was responsible for writing the script; this was the beginning of a successful scriptwriter/director collaboration, which included the films Doctor Zhivago (MGM 1965) and Ryan's Daughter (MGM - Faraway 1970)

David Lean's next project after Ryan's Daughter was intended to be another collaboration with Robert Bolt: a two part exploration of the story of the mutiny on board HMS Bounty, to be called The Lawbreakers and The Long Arm. The project experienced a number of difficulties and delays and two production companies: Warner Brothers and Dino De Laurentiis Corporation backed out mainly due to financial considerations. Lean was unable to find another backer for the project and eventually abandoned it in 1980.

Lean's final completed project was a screen adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India (1984); which he scripted as well as directing. Following on from the production of A Passage to India, Lean was awarded a knighthood in 1984.

Work on Lean's final project, a screen version of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo, was abandoned on his death in 1991.


Generally chronological by project and then divided into miscellaneous items:

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Please contact Special Collections to make an enquiry or to book a research appointment at the BFI Reuben Library, Southbank.