Boxsets like this are a godsend to serious movie buffs; they offer us the opportunity to hold our own mini-film festivals and study/enjoy a large portion of a major director's body of work. In this case, we get to follow the first half of David Lean's career. From 1942 to 1953, Lean directed 10 films -- all of them produced within the British film industry, most filmed on studio sets, and all but two shot in moody black-and-white. (Not included is "Major Barbara" (1941), which sources indicate was primarily directed uncredited by Lean. Nor are Lean's final six feature films, which were all international productions made on location.)
I'm not sure that much more needs to be said about the individual films themselves. If you're considering this purchase, then you probably know most of them already. I'd like to make two quick points: (1) I'm largely in agreement with David Thomson and other critics who have attempted to rehabilitate Lean's early career and elevate these films above some of his later, more popular epics; these films strike me as having more vitality, humor, and visual inventiveness than, say, the ponderous "Doctor Zhivago." (2) Watching Lean's four collaborations with Noel Coward offers a remarkable study in a gifted artist slowly but steadily surpassing his gifted mentor; already in "This Happy Breed" you can sense Lean chafing against Coward's social conservatism, granting better close-ups to Kay Walsh's rebellious daughter than to Robert Newton's mouth-piece for Coward.
The DVDs themselves are uniformly very pleasing. As other reviewers have noted, the films are presented in their CORRECT aspect ratio of 1.33:1 or thereabouts. The restorations by the BFI are wonderful; I've never seen the Technicolor look so vibrant in "Blithe Spirit." I do have two minor complaints:
(1) There is very heavy grain present in some of these transfers (notably "In Which We Serve" and "Madeleine"), and I'm not always certain that the grain is inherent in the original source materials. Some of it looks like it might have been created by a little too much digital fiddling by ITV. Or perhaps it's because some of these DVDs are single-layer and thus have a rather low bit-rate.
(2) There are also surprisingly few extra features for such a labour of love. All the discs feature photo galleries, and the first six retain their original theatrical trailers. Otherwise, there are only three 24-minute featurettes for "In Which We Serve," "Brief Encounter," and "Oliver Twist" -- all of which were produced by Carlton several years ago. Oh, yes, there's also a booklet with a few paragraphs dedicated to each film. But ITV missed a wonderful opportunity to add to our appreciation of these films, and perhaps to continue rehabilitating some of them. For instance, both "The Passionate Friends" and "Madeleine" would benefit from some critical insight, and it's almost shameful that the DVD for a film of "Great Expectation"'s stature is basically bare-bones.
Nevertheless, as other reviewers have pointed out, Amazon's sale price makes this boxset a steal. And further criticism would be churlish. ITV is to be commended, and this item is to be purchased by any serious cinephile.