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David Lean Directs Noel Coward (In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter) (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (1945)

Noel Coward , Bernard Miles , Noel Coward , David Lean  |  NR |  Blu-ray
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Noel Coward, Bernard Miles, Robert Newton, Celia Johnson, John Mills
  • Directors: Noel Coward, David Lean
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Color, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: March 27, 2012
  • Run Time: 407 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B006ML50RE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,874 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "David Lean Directs Noel Coward (In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter) (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]" on IMDb

Special Features

New high-definition digital transfers of the BFI National Archive’s 2008 restorations, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray editions

Audio commentary on Brief Encounter by film historian Bruce Eder

New interviews with Noel Coward scholar Barry Day on all of the films

Interview with cinematographer-screenwriter-producer Ronald Neame from 2010

Short documentaries from 2000 on the making of In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter

David Lean: A Self Portrait, a 1971 television documentary on Lean’s career

Episode of the British television series The Southbank Show from 1992 on the life and career of Coward

Audio recording of a 1969 conversation between Richard Attenborough and Coward at London’s National Film Theatre


PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by Ian Christie, Terrence Rafferty, Farran Nehne, Geoffrey O’Brien, and Kevin Brownlow

Editorial Reviews

In the 1940s, the wit of playwright Noel Coward (Design for Living) and the craft of filmmaker David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) 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.

In Which We Serve In the midst of World War II, the renowned playwright Noel Coward engaged a young film editor named David Lean to help him realize his vision for an action drama about a group of Royal Navy sailors (roles that would be filled by Coward himself, Great Expectations’ Bernard Miles, and Ryan’s Daughter’s John Mills, among others) fighting the Germans in the Mediterranean. Coward and Lean ended up codirecting the large-scale project—an impressive undertaking, especially considering that neither of them had directed for the big screen before (this would be Coward’s only such credit). Cutting between a major naval battle and flashbacks to the men’s lives before they left home, In Which We Serve (an Oscar nominee for best picture) was a major breakthrough for both filmmakers and a sensitive and stirring piece of propaganda.


114 minutes

Black & white


1.37:1 aspect ratio

This Happy Breed David Lean brings to vivid emotional life Noel Coward’s epic chronicle of a working-class family in the London suburbs over the course of two decades. Robert Newton (Oliver Twist) and Celia Johnson (Brief Encounter) are surpassingly affecting as Frank and Ethel Gibbons, a couple with three children whose modest household is touched by joy and tragedy from the tail end of the First World War to the beginning of the Second. With its mix of politics and melodrama, This Happy Breed is a quintessential British domestic drama, featuring subtly expressive Technicolor cinematography by Ronald Neame and a remarkable supporting cast including John Mills, Stanley Holloway (My Fair Lady), and Kay Walsh (The Horse’s Mouth)


111 minutes



1.37:1 aspect ratio

Blithe Spirit Blithe Spirit, David Lean’s delightful film version of Noel Coward’s theater sensation (onstage, it broke London box-office records before hitting Broadway), stars Rex Harrison (Unfaithfully Yours) as a novelist who cheekily invites a medium (The Importance of Being Earnest’s Margaret Rutherford) to his house to conduct a séance, hoping the experience will inspire a book he’s working on. Things go decidedly not as planned when she summons the spirit of his dead first wife (Kay Hammond), a severe inconvenience for his current one (Constance Cummings). Employing Oscar-winning special effects to spruce up Coward’s theatrical farce, Blithe Spirit is a sprightly supernatural comedy with winning performances.


96 minutes



1.37:1 aspect ratio

Brief Encounter After a chance meeting on a train platform, a married doctor (The Third Man’s Trevor Howard) and a suburban housewife (This Happy Breed’s Celia Johnson) enter into a muted but passionate, ultimately doomed, love affair. With its evocatively fog-enshrouded setting, swooning Rachmaninoff score, and pair of remarkable performances (Johnson was nominated for an Oscar for her role), David Lean’s film of Noel Coward’s play Still Life deftly explores the thrill, pain, and tenderness of an illicit romance, and has influenced many a cinematic brief encounter since its release.


86 minutes

Black & white


1.37:1 aspect ratio

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Criterion, who probably makes more film fans happier than any other company, has just released David Lean Directs Noel Coward. An odd pairing, at first glance---the man who directed such epics as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and The Bridge on the River Kwai---with the premier light comedy actor/author/composer of the twentieth century. Even odder is the choice of material: A world class war story about the sinking of a ship; a world class romance about lost love; a world class picture of the British lower-middle class; and the world class comedy fantasy of the last century, respectively In Which We Serve, Brief Encounter, This Happy Breed and Blithe Spirit. Perhaps even more surprising is that all four were made during a period of about three years, from 1942 to 1945.
Briefly, all four films are extraordinary examples of propaganda at its best. Lean and Coward were both fervently patriotic, and England was the underdog at the time in a war. Lean was just beginning his astonishing career; Coward had just finished a dozen or so years of incredible success on the stage, but considerably less success, or even attempts, at a film career. In 1941, Germany bombed London for 57 consecutive evenings.
Coward wrote and Lean directed these films, with Coward playing the lead for In Which We Serve. Coward also produced, wrote the screenplay, composed the score, and officially codirected, though he handed the reigns to Lean in his directorial debut.
Coward was entertaining the troops during the shooting of the other three films, yet his mark is clearly visible in each films. The cameraman for the quartet was Ronald Neame, perhaps less a household name, yet later the director such gems as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I Could Go on Singing and The Horse's Mouth.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Lean & Noel Coward March 22, 2012
The Criterion Collection has released DAVID LEAN DIRECTS NOEL COWARD, a four-disc boxed set containing the quartet of films that the two artists made together during the first half of 1940s. The collection is being released in both Blu-Ray and DVD editions. This reviewer's remarks are based on the DVD set.

All four films, two of which are in Technicolor, have been magnificently remastered. The colors are brilliant and balanced; the black-and-white images sharp and solid.

I'm not going to use much space talking about the individual movies, since anybody who decides to purchase this collection will, undoubtedly, be well familiar with them.

IN WHICH WE SERVE (1942) was co-directed by Coward and Lean and deals with a ship of the Royal Navy, sunk in the Mediterranean during the early days of World War II. This event occurs at the start of the picture, thus most of the narrative is told via flashback as the survivors cling to a life raft, being strafed by German planes while they await rescue.

Coward plays the ship's captain, and we follow his story, as well as the histories of several crew members. Among the cast in this stirring film, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar,are John Mills, Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson, Kay Walsh, Michael Wilding and Richard Attenborough.

THIS HAPPY BREED (1944) is the story of an average middle class British family seen over a period of twenty years, from the end of The Great War to just before the beginning of World War II. It is a tale of the vicissitudes of life.

The Technicolor film stars Robert Newton, Celia Johnson, John Mills, Kay Walsh and Stanley Holloway.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An elegant collection, worthy of "double dip" . . . April 20, 2012
By Jrum C.
Am still thrilled with my 9 film Korean release David Lean DVD Collection Box Set [9 Discs, Import, All Regions] (Oliver Twist /Great Expectations / Blithe Spirit / This Happy Breed /Brief Encounter /Madeleine /The Sound Barrier /Hobson's Choice) (+ "Passionate Friends", unlisted), so was a bit hesitant to buy the Criterion set (after all, 9-set was only missing "In Which We Serve", which was only previously available as public domain release). Bit the bullet, spent $55 for THIS set (after spending $47 for 1st set). Summary: a most worthy addition to library. Criterion set has the 4 listed films, including a wonderfully restored "Serve", numerous extra features (as listed in product description), a 45 page booklet, and just flat-out classy packaging (each film has own case -hardboard w/film photos, and plastic tray-), including shiny black accents for all film titles, all housed in similarly designed box. Substantial extra features, and now having clean copy of "In Which We Serve" (with subtitles!), made this a worthy purchase! (BUT: if your budget only allows for one set, still consider the Korean one. Has only a few extra features, but ALL films are very crisp/clean in video and audio. Don't be 'put-off' by foreign packaging -it is still a lovely box set- and audio/subs ARE in English!) To close, please don't disparage (too harshly!) this review. Yes, the Criterion is a magnificent set, but a lover of film might just want to enjoy even more terrific DL titles for same amount!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
I already own the Korean nine film DVD set of David Lean films (minus In Which We Serve)David Lean DVD Collection Box Set [9 Discs, Import, All Regions] (Oliver Twist /Great Expectations / Blithe Spirit / This Happy Breed /Brief Encounter /Madeleine /The Sound Barrier /Hobson's Choice), so I was hesitant on upgrading to blu ray. The Korean DVDs look really good, but these Criterion prints look amazing!! I fell in love with these movies (especially Brief Encounter) all over again. Too bad there are only four films. This set makes me crave for more of David Lean's older films on blu ray. Criterion has always done a great job with restoring these classics and so glad to see these get upgraded to blu ray! Can't say which one looks the best, all of these films look brilliant. Blithe Spirit really looks good with its rich colors that really stand out. While the detail in the black and white fims like Brief Encounter really looks amazing! And every film comes with its own special features.
This is hands down Criterion's best blu ray set and worthy to be in every film lover's collection.
Set like this makes me a big fan of the blu ray format. Thanks again to Criterion for giving us film lover's a great collection. Another great blu ray set from you guys!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars All the great movies from my personal favourite THIS HAPPY BREED to...
All the great movies from my personal favourite THIS HAPPY BREED to BLITHE SPIRIT and BRIEF ENCOUNTER true classics thank you David Lean as for blu ray transfer excellent.
Published 1 month ago by Martyn Down
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good set. Considering the age of the movies they ...
Yes, yes, yes. Very good set. Considering the age of the movies they are beautifully presented on these DVDs. LOVE this set. Worth every penny!
Published 2 months ago by England's own.
5.0 out of 5 stars David Lean and Noel Coward
What a wonderful combination. The movies are amazing! I'm so glad to have these movies in my collection! Thank you!
Published 7 months ago by Beammeuplori
4.0 out of 5 stars Stellar Noel Coward
This is stellar Noel Coward directed by David Lean and beautifully designed and impeccably produced by Criterion. Need I say more?
Published 12 months ago by Habod
4.0 out of 5 stars Birth of a Director
David Lean's first four films as a director were adoptations of Noel Cowerd plays. These four films are in this collection. These are, in the order made, 1. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Tony Marquise Jr.
3.0 out of 5 stars ART HOUSE WEEKEND
Criterion's massive (4 disc) DAVID LEAN DIRECTS NOEL COWARD
is a worthy addition to anyone's art film collection. Read more
Published 23 months ago by John J. Pocsik
4.0 out of 5 stars You can do better
Kino put out a 9 disc set (9 movie) David Lean collection that sells for about the same price. A much better deal.
Published on June 20, 2012 by Glen
3.0 out of 5 stars Overpriced, better alternatives.
There is a 9 disc Kino collection of David Lean pictures that is a far better value. That collection also includes "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist" (two of Lean's very... Read more
Published on June 3, 2012 by Glen R. Scutt
5.0 out of 5 stars Rule Britannia....
Each of the four films in this set are fantastic....2 in b/w and 2 in technicolor....magnificent restorations with many extras in this Criterion blu-ray box set.... Read more
Published on May 6, 2012 by Dr. Morbius
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-own box set for David Lean and Noel Coward fans!
he 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... Read more
Published on April 28, 2012 by Dennis A. Amith (kndy)
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