Passionate Encounters: The Films of David Lean

Married six times, director David Lean (1908-1991) famously placed work before marriage. A perfectionist on the set of Oscar winners like Lawrence of Arabia, you could say that he reserved his grand passions for cinema, and the wife could wait back home. Yet in the 10-film retrospective “Passionate Encounters: The Films of David Lean” (through March 12), there are small-scale emotions and domestic felicities you might not expect, and nary a camel in sight. The Thursday night series begins with This Happy Breed (1944), Lean’s second collaboration with Noël Coward after the World War II naval melodrama In Which We Serve (Feb. 5). As in that picture, John Mills also stars, aging 20 years as the boy next store (and future naval hero) to the Gibbons family. Set mostly within a middle-class row house, This Happy Breed spans the inter-war period: the euphoria after Armistice Day, strikes, socialism, the advent of radio and talking movies, generational chafing, and Nazi storm clouds brewing over Europe. Through all, Mr. and Mrs. Gibbons (Robert Newton and Celia Howard) endure uncomplainingly, mending every family rift with cups of tea and soothing words. It’s a conservative yet affecting film for profoundly troubled times. In the movie’s most disturbing scene, the Gibbons stroll through the park where a black-shirted homegrown English fascist (very much like Oswald Mosley) is standing on a soap box, railing against Jews and other undesirables. At that moment, it’s clear why Lean and Coward are celebrating the Gibbons’ calm, unruffled traditionalism, which doesn’t look so bad today. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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