Epic vision

The best literary and filmic realism stems from meticulously constructed fakery. The English, masters of precise practical craftsmanship and emotional detachment, do it particularly well: we frigid orgasm-feigning voyeurs are brilliant at building sincere pieces of insincerity that hit the heart by tricking the mind. From Thackeray and Hardy to Eliot and Dickens, our great realist novels are composed of the very symptoms of sham: cliche, stereotyping, coincidence and highly selective symbolism abound. David Lean and Great Expectations were made for each other. Like Dickens, he was an obsessive auteur who embraced artifice with full awareness of how real it feels. His films have been restored and remastered by the BFI, and even for a carniverous thespian goy like me, their The Lean Legacy launch event (to which I was escorted by the inestimable Master JSL) was heavy on the ham. As the likes of Nigel Havers, Prunella Scales and Edward Fox gathered in the NFT to introduce and explain their favourite Lean clips, his still-potent ability to remake the world anew shone through the freshly Botoxed celluloid. This is a must-see season for our jaded CGeyes.

Our current cinematic concept of reality involves gazing at the earth, not the sky. Authenticity is ruled by a Dogme-influenced ethic that demands untrained actors, steadycam aesthetics and a narrow focus on one socially-specific slice of life (Showing Now: Adulthood). A realist epic now seems unthinkable, with wider visions of the world relegated to ancient history (Showing Now: Mongol) or absolute fantasy (Showing Now: Narnia).

Brief Encounter's stilted, saturated melodrama, Passage to India's theatrical tableaux and Lawrence's symbolism-heavy scenes can seem incredibly unreal to us today, but the BFI's screenings have reminded me just how emotionally real each massive, mysterious, multiplicitous Lean world feels (and his interview with Maureen Pryor is priceless).

Blow out the match, and face the sunrise.