BRIEF ENCOUNTER, 1945
Cast: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey, Cyril Raymond, Everley Gregg, Marjorie Mars, Margaret Barton
Brief Encounter is a classic romantic drama set in 1945 during WWII in and around the fictional Milford railway station. A married woman, with children, Laura (Celia Johnson), meets a stranger, a doctor (Trevor Howard) named Alec in the station's waiting/tea room, who kindly removes a piece of grit from her eye then leaves to catch his train. During her following shopping trips to Milford, Laura bumps into Alec and a friendship begins to develop. Soon the meetings become a fixed arrangement.
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Brief Encounter is a quintessential British movie, produced by Noel Coward and adapted from his play ‘Still Life’. It is a true classic of cinema, brought to life by luminary director, David Lean. The pedigree and legacy the film comes from and has created is hard to overstate. It is often cited as one of the best British films of all time. In the context of the time it was made there are some groundbreaking elements to the films structure, style and the core idea of fidelity behind it. It is exactly that idea, and the sheer longing romance of the film, which ensures that it endures.
The film opens with a highly tense scene in a train station, where the meeting of Laura and Dr Alec Harvey is interrupted by an acquaintance of Laura’s who talks endlessly dead whatever interaction was going on between Laura and Alec. His train arrives and Alec has to leave, much to the dismay of Laura who, given the time, tries not to appear flappable.
Laura, after catching her own train home, still flustered, returns to her domestic lifestyle at home with husband, Cyril and their two children. There with her mind still on earlier, in her head begins to tell her kindly yet oblivious husband about the previous few weeks of her life. Her inner thoughts reveal a lustful turmoil that has been developing recently, and has all to do with Dr Alec Harvey.
They met randomly at the train station when he helped her remove some grit from her eye. From there, with some light, charming conversation they become more than acquaintances. In fact, as their routines generally intersect at the station a friendship soon comes to the fore. They go out for dinner, to the movies having a good time and before long, inevitably, they develop romantic feelings for each other.
After some time, both reflecting on what kind of relationship they have got into, they discuss and in fact Alec arranges for a more illicit meeting between the two at his friends vacant flat. The meeting doesn’t go well, when they are interrupted by the returning friend. This near miss sparks more doubting thoughts, especially into Laura’s mind as she questions the morality of their affair.
Following this test, Alec then reveals his offer of a job in Africa which puts a finite amount on the time they have left together. It is during their last of these station meets that we return to the opening scene, where Laura’s busy-body friend interrupts them and we realise just how pivotal that opening scene was to their relationship. It throws a whole new spin on events and offers up the films most famous motif.
It is just this that the film is so sacred. Those stylistic points of using internal narration from Laura, telling the story mostly in flashback, even setting the relationship within the confines of brief weekly meetings in a train station is all groundbreaking stuff. It may not add much more than that of the play, in fact the film feels very play like, however, that doesn’t detract from its overall success. Part of buying into that is the constant discussion in trying to understand their feelings by the two lead characters, as well as Laura’s internal monologue which acts a kind of psychological trial of her own in dealing with these feelings. It’s far and away one of the most romantic films in spite of the fact it is about an affair, that both parties have loving families.
Review by Stefan Leverton 17/02/10