Undoubtedly this is one of the greatest British classics. Brief Encounter is an intimate romantic drama that has long held a place in my heart. Its story of two married people falling in love, but plagued by feelings of guilt, and having an inner decency which makes them not want to give in to their feelings has been imitated many times since: Falling In Love, The 7.39(TV), and even a remake of Brief Encounter, starring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. Although enjoyable, none of them will ever come close to this original version in my opinion.
Laura(Celia Johnson)and Alec(Trevor Howard)meet at a railway station, and keep running in to one another. A friendship develops which soon becomes something more. The catch is both are married to someone else, and neither wants to hurt their spouse. Neither can deny their feelings and they will have to decide whether to begin a relationship or not.
We feel for them both so much, and because they resist their feelings this makes them sympathetic because they can’t deny the attraction, but they will not just go straight ahead and act on it. If they had fell into each others arms and ran off together, I highly doubt this film would have become the classic it is today. I also like how their meetings and growing feelings don’t feel contrived; their meeting feels real and believable.
Brief Encounter is directed by David Lean, and is based on Noel Coward’s stage play, Still Life(which was set entirely in a railway waiting room). Lean wisely expanded the action beyond the train station, giving us glimpses of Laura’s home life with loving, but slightly dull husband (Cyril Raymond), and meetings in town between Alec and Laura.
In many scenes this film could almost be seen as a Silent film, there are many moments where the camera is close in on Celia’s face and we hear her characters thoughts, fantasies, desires in a narration; while all this is going on Celia has to also express what we hear through her expressions, and she does so expertly.
There is also another prominent couple in this film, Albert (Stanley Holloway) and Myrtle(Joyce Carey)the station master and station café manager; they enjoy an open, flirtatious relationship, whilst never seeming to ever become a couple (like Alec and Laura). These scenes also serve as some comic relief in an otherwise serious and emotional story. Margaret Barton is also good as the young café assistant(I believe she is now the only surviving cast member.)
My heart breaks for Alec and Laura every time I watch this; it is obvious that they would be good for one another and they genuinely care for each other. I admire their moral strength though in not giving in to their hearts desire, that only makes me like them and pity them more. Can you imagine how hard it must be to give up what you want most, and just walk away? That takes real strength and determination, not everyone can be so strong in life.
The use of Rachmaninov’s music was an inspired choice, today that music and this film are inseparable in many peoples minds. It fits the film perfectly.
My favourite scenes are their cinema visits, the scene in the flat, Laura’s fantasy in the train window, the first(and as it turns out) final scene in the café and the “you know what’s happened, don’t you?” scene.
I love this scene for the story and performances, but I also enjoy watching to see a bygone era. This is the England of steam trains and to our modern view some extremely cheap prices for everything, from food to cinema tickets.
A bittersweet love story that stays with you long after the film has finished. I have no doubt that this film will continue to be effective for as long as film survives. I think that is a testament to the abilities of Lean, and all the cast and crew who worked on this.
Please share your thoughts on this timeless love story. Never seen it? Get a copy of this and enjoy this deeply moving film. Be sure to see it on Blu-ray to catch it looking at its best.