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The Films of David Lean

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Acclaimed British director David Lean could have easily ended up as an accountant. That was the profession his father took and the young Lean was expected to follow in his footsteps. Luckily though, his passion for cinema was so great that his family allowed him to seek employment within the film industry.

His first job was as a tea-boy at Gaumont studios in the mid-1920s. From there he was lucky enough to move into editing just as sound films were beginning to take off.

Lean was to become a highly respected editor, working on Gaumont Sound News (1930) and British Movietone News (1931-32), and later fictional features such Escape Me Never (1935), As You Like It (1936) and Pygmalion (1938). In 1940, he moved on to work as assistant director on the film Major Barbara.

Celebrated playwright and actor Noel Coward hired Lean as his directorial collaborator on the wartime classic In Which We Serve (1943). The following year, Lean made his solo directorial debut with This Happy Breed. After this, he went on to work on further films written by Coward. These included the comedy Blithe Spirit (1945) and the very English, middle class tale of forbidden romance Brief Encounter (1945).

David Lean Brief Encounter

He then made two very impressive adaptations of Charles Dickens books, Oliver Twist (1948) and Great Expectations (1946).

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, which starred Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, and William Holden.

Lean’s next film, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) became the definitive dramatic film epic of its generation. Featuring an intense performance from Peter O’Toole, the told the tale of the Arab revolt against German-allied Turkey during World War I.

David Lean Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago (1965), a complex romantic tale about life in Russia before and during the revolution, opened to mixed reviews but went on to become one of the top-grossing movies of the 1960s, despite a three-hour running time.

Gaining both critical and commercial success, it was clear that Lean had become one of the biggest directors of the day. However, he was soon to receive some knocks. The 1970 film, Ryan’s Daughter (1970) was savaged by critics, who criticised it’s slowness and self-indulgence.

A quiet period followed for Lean. Disheartened by the first consistently negative reviews of his illustrious career, he stayed away from the cinema for fourteen years.

His return was with A Passage to India (1984), a comeback which proved to both a critical and box office success. In 1990, Lean, who has been cited as an influence for directors such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, was the first non-American recipient of the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement award. The director was in final pre-production for the a film version of the Joseph Conrad novel Nostromo when he died in 1991.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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