Director, writer, and producer David Lean grew up in a strict religious background in which movies were forbidden to become one of the world's most celebrated filmmakers. Beginning as a tea boy in the mid-'20s, he was lucky enough to move into editing just as sound films -- with their special requirements -- were coming on the scene. By the mid-'30s, he was regarded as one of the top in his field.
Lean turned down several chances to make low-budget films, and got his first directing opportunity (unofficially) on Major Barbara (1941), one of the most celebrated movies of the early '40s. Noel Coward hired Lean as his directorial collaborator on his war classic In Which We Serve (1943), and, after that, Lean's career was made. For the next 15 years, he became known throughout the world for his close, intimate, serious film dramas. Some (This Happy Breed , Blithe Spirit , and Brief Encounter ) were based upon Coward's plays, which the author had given Lean virtual carte blanche to film. Others ranged from Charles Dickens adaptations (Great Expectations, , Oliver Twist ) to stories about aviation (The Sound Barrier ). In 1957, in association with producer Sam Spiegel, Lean moved out of England and into international production with his epic adaptation of Pierre Boulle's Japanese prisoner-of-war story The Bridge on the River Kwai, a superb drama starring Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, and William Holden that expanded the dimensions of serious filmmaking.