Criterion’s indispensable new David Lean Directs Noel Coward Blu-ray box set allows us to revisit their great wartime collaboration in HD: In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, and Brief Encounter. What a revelation!
First of all, the BFI National Archive’s restorations (in association with ITV Global Studios Ent. and StudioCanal) return their visual luster in both black and white and Technicolor, allowing us to experience these very precious and intimate movies in all their glory. The cinematography of Ronald Neame and Robert Krasker (Brief Encounter) can now be better enjoyed and appreciated.
But more than that, the combination of Lean and Coward captures the anxieties and fears, hopes and regrets of Britain in the ’40s in a very different way than, say, Powell and Pressburger. Understandably, there is a restless sense of urgency and individual expression at odds with the need for family and stability — a fascinating tug of war. Lean was learning the craft of direction; Coward was at the top of his game as a writer and actor. There is something very noble and timeless about these four movies.