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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Lincoln Center Presents Noel Coward on the Big Screen

Noël Coward (1899-1973) is likely best remembered for being Noël Coward. The debonair wit of the fashionable set during the 1920s and 30s continued to impress and entertain right on up through the war years of WWII and beyond. Lincoln Center is screening eleven of Coward’s best known films (as author, director and actor) this weekend as their part of a New York City celebration in honor of the man who elevated the art of sophisticated beyond the drawing rooms of England’s polite society.

Coward first established himself as a successful playwright. Several of his early plays were filmed by British studios. Which is particularly interesting since the signature of a Coward play is the extensive use of clever dialogue and the movies were still silent at the time of filming. It wasn’t until the 1930s, that Hollywood took a hold of the material. However, it wouldn’t be until the 1940s when Coward would experience his greatest success on screen, when he took on the role of screenwriter, composer, actor and co-directed (with David Lean) for In Which We Serve. Set in the battlefield of the Pacific as well as the home front, it is one of the finest war films ever made. During the same period Coward also wrote Brief Encounter, which is an incredibly touching love stories about an average middle-aged woman who happens by chance to meet an equally average middle-aged man on a train platform and the two form a lasting, and heart breaking bond.

The films included in the three day salute are The Astonished Heart (starring Howard himself in a melodrama), Bitter Sweet, Blithe Spirit (with Rex Harrison), the not to be missed Brief Encounter, Our Man in Havana (featuring Alec Guinness and Maureen O’Hara), Design for Living (a screwball comedy with Gary Cooper and Fredric March), the highly recommended In Which We Serve, Private Lives (a Norma Sheerer comedy), The Scoundrel (also stars Howard), The Happy Breed (about a British middle class family in the 1930s) , and The Vortex (a silent film). When you do buy your ticket note that Lincoln Center is offering a special price deal if you buy tickets for two separate films. Select any two films in the series for just $15 Members, Students & Seniors, $20 General Public. There are restrictions and conditions you can read about on the website, but all in all that’s a pretty good deal for a movie ticket in Manhattan.

For a complete schedule go to the Lincoln Center website. And for information about additional Coward festival programs in New York City, you should visit One definitely worth checking out is the FREE guided tour of the concurrent New York Public Library exhibition “Star Quality: The World of Noël Coward.” The exhibit features an extensive selection of manuscripts, paintings, set and costumes designs, costumes, and personal memorabilia from the Coward archive. The tours will be offered on Friday, May 11 at 12:45pm and Saturday, May 12 at 12:30P at the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza (next to the Met).

If you can, I’d recommend visiting the exhibit first, before going to the movies. For those who don’t already know Coward it will certainly provide context for the work of a man so revered in his own time. And for those already familiar with one of the greatest personalities of the last century the exhibit will serve as an added bonus to what is sure to be a delightful movie going experience.

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