Lester James Peries was born on April 25, 1919 in Dehiwela, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Lester's father Dr. James Francis Peries had studied medicine in Scotland and his mother Ann Gertrude Winifred Jayasuria was a graduate of St. Bridget's Convent in Colombo. Jayasuriya notably was the first student to pass the Senior Cambridge exam at the school. Lester had three siblings: Erica, Ivan and Noel.
The Peries family was a Roman Catholic family that had become anglicized. Growing up Lester only spoke English at home and celebrated Christian traditions like Christmas. His only link to Sinhala culture was his grandmother who didn't trust Western medicine and spoke Sinhalese. At the age of eleven Lester was given a 8mm Kodasko projector by his father as a gift.
He attended St. Peter's College in Colombo as a teenager before dropping out to pursue a career in journalism at the age of 17. He found his first work with the Daily News writing for the blue pages. In 1939 he joined the Times of Ceylon working under Indian editor Frank Moraes. He also reviewed books on Radio Ceylon for a short period.
Peries first real work with production came when he joined a theater group called Drama Circle.
Stay in England
In 1947 Peries traveled to England on his mother's advice to join his brother Ivan who was there on an art scholarship. Moreas suggested writing a column from the country to be published in the Times which became "Letter on the Arts from England."
In 1964, he married Sumitra Gunawardene, who is also a distinguished directress now.
In 1956, Lester made his entry in to national cinema with the globally acclaimed "Rekava", which was a story based on village life. With this he revolutionized Sri Lankan cinema, giving it a unique identity. Afterwards he made many award-winning films such as "Gamperaliya" in 1964 based on Martin Wickramasinghe's famous novel; "Delowak Athara" in 1966; "Golu Hadawatha" in 1968 based on the novel by Karunasena Jayalath; "Nidhanaya" in 1970; "Yuganthaya" in 1983 and many more. He has directed over 20 films.