A model based on the lubrication approximation is put forward for the general case of asymmetric forward roll coating of Newtonian liquids. Two more-rigorous theories are developed, one based on asymptotic expansions for small ratios of gap-to-roll diameter (H0/R), the second on Galerkin/finite-element solutions of the full Navier–Stokes equations over the relevant flow domain. The lubrication model is useful only as an approximation at high capillary numbers [omitted formula]. The asymptotic analysis is accurate when H0/R < 0.001 and Ca > 0.1. The ratio of the film thicknesses on the two rolls is predicted to equal the speed ratio to the 0.65 power, which is confirmed experimentally. The Galerkin/finite-element solutions give full details of the steady two-dimensional free-surface flows including complex recirculation patterns in the film-splitting region, and show how the film-splitting stagnation line becomes a static contact line in the limit as one roll surface becomes stationary.