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Have you really never seen Brief Encounter? What have you been doing all
these years? You have a treat in store.
I have a great love for British films of the 1940s. There seems to have been a great flowering of creative talent then, and the films of the period look beautiful, and have such wonderful characters in them. David Lean is more famous for his huge Technicolor epics, like Lawrence of Arabia, or A Passage to India, but Brief Encounter is his most moving film. It is shot in atmospheric black and white, and tells the story of two people who fall in love, in mundane little England.
Celia Johnston plays Laura, a middle class woman who lives a happy but predictable life, who meets Dr. Alec Harvey, played by craggy Trevor Howard. There starts a doomed love affair, set to the sweeping romantic sounds of Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concerto. This single piece of music plays throughout the film, and stirs up exactly the right emotions. The film will make you want to own a recording of the music.
Such is the power and influence of this film, that it has been remade a few times, and spoofed on countless occasions. It created the archetype for the romantic farewell on a station platform, with steam hissing from trains, and an orchestra playing in the background. Though this has been copied often, it has never been bettered. The film involves a few scenes on railway platforms, and some of these are mundane, others joyous, or despairing, wretched. The director uses many deft tricks to heighten the emotion all along the way. A simple tilt of the camera, or contrasting mood of another character, serves to add tremendous power to the emotion of the scenes.
Times were different then. People were brasher, accents were stronger, and social attitudes to affairs quite different. The period of the film gives it much of its charm. It does not make it a cold study of a different culture, however. The film is very personal. The character of Laura's husband is hardly seen in the entire film, which means that we identify more with Laura's feelings. We see the affair and next to nothing else.
Celia Johnson brings a great deal to the film. She is so likeable, and so able to express the misery that her new love brings her. Her manner of speaking is quite alien to a modern ear. In the 1940s, it was quite normal to add a Y sound to many words. "Hat" became "hyat". The accents are not forced, though - they come across as quite natural, and very likeable.
This film would not be made this way today. The modern audience would demand younger stars, and nudity. See this film to witness how it was once possible to make films about love without bedroom scenes. Brief Encounter is very much stronger for lack of these. Stoicism and restraint are under-rated traits in modern cinema. Modern directors and writers would do well to remind themselves with this film, that a story can be given tremendous emotional power by techniques which seem to have been lost.
The person who wrote the first review of this movie must be either a
complete moron or
has an acute lack of appreciation for what constitutes great
"Brief Encounter" is the perfect encapsulation of a very specific time in both women's and British history. The immediate post-WW 2 era in the UK was a period that saw Brits struggling with the disppearance of traditional social mores that had endured for over a century and the new world order that came about at the conclusion of the war. (For another, beautifully crafted cinematic example, see Neil Jordan's exquisite movie "The End of the Affair.")
Food rationing was still in place in postwar Britain. Women were having to deal with getting to know their menfolk again, after their years of absence at war. Like their American "Rosie the Riveter" counterparts, British women had enjoyed newfound and unfamiliar independence during wartime, working for the war effort. And, like their US "sisters", they were expected to relinquish those jobs to returning men.
"Brief Encounter" is, in many ways, a metaphor for the struggle that men and women were going through, stuck with having to conform to social expectations while bursting to escape to the greater independence glimpsed fleetingly and pleasurably during the war, when everything and everyone were turned upside down.
Being the work of Noel Coward, that master observer of and commentator on English manners, "Brief Encounter" frames this struggle as a torrid love story bubbling under the surface of British reserve, which demands maintaining appearances at all costs, regardless of the personal pain involved.
This passionate pair, who never even exchange a kiss, are constrained and ultimately kept apart by expectations--of their families, of their social positions, of Great Britain.
When Alec puts his hand on Laura's shoulder at their final, unexpectedly truncated meeting in the station snack bar/waiting room, it's as erotic and far more touching than just about every sex scene you'll see in movies.
The first reviewer completely missed the point and the relevance of this movie in film history and, especially, in British cinema history.
Certain songs, or melodies, associated with films one has seen, stay in
our sub conscience forever. This is the case with the Rachmaninoff's
Second Piano Concerto for this viewer. Any time we hear it, or parts of
the main themes are played, it immediately evokes this romantic film of
1945. It's a tribute to its director, David Lean, that after more than
sixty years, it still is one of the most cherished movie experiences
for a lot of people that saw it, or that are just getting acquainted
"Brief Encounter" owes it all to one of the best talent in the English speaking world of the last century: Noel Coward. As part of his "Tonight at Eight" theater work, this one act play, "Still Life" was turned by its author and David Lean into what we know as "Brief Encounter", a bittersweet account of two lovers, doomed from the start.
The film works because the exquisite chemistry between its two stars, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. Both these actors make Laura Jesson and Alec Harvey come alive and stay with us every time we view this timeless film. The story is not far fetched and is made real by the two stars that elevate it to one of the best films of all times. The movie is done with an impeccable sense of decorum and style, yet it has such a sexy subtext. That was a time when a film didn't have to "bare it all" in order to catch the viewer's imagination. In fact, Laura and Alec let us know, without being specific, about the passion that both feel for one another.
Celia Johnson was not a great beauty. Neither was Trevor Howard the epitome of handsomeness, yet, their scenes together project such a heat, as the one that their characters are feeling at any given moment. The fact the two illicit lovers are played by people one could relate to, is what makes the film resonate the way it does every time we watch it. Of course, we realize this situation had no future from the start, yet, one keeps hoping their love will end well.
The supporting cast is excellent. Stanley Holloway is seen as the station master Albert. Joyce Carey is perfect as the woman in charge of the refreshment area of the station where Laura and Alec spend some of their time together. Cyril Raymond makes Fred Jesson, a man who perhaps understand much more than what he lets know. Everly Gregg is seen as the chattering Dolly Messiter.
"Brief Encounter" is one of the best films directed by David Lean, a man who was able to give the film the right tone and made it the classic that it is.
There's not a lot to say. Like many classics this film is simply constructed
with all the elements in balance so that none stands out. Everything in it
contributes something essential; the lighting, the unromantic railway
station sets, the minor characters and of course the music, the
ultra-romantic Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no 2. The emotional rollercoaster
of the illicit affair has seldom been better portrayed. Perhaps it is a
little understated for transatlantic tastes but no-one viewing this movie
would not appreciate that the English can be as passionate as the rest of
Celia Johnson as Laura and Trevor Howard as Alec are perfect together. It being 1945, they do not get to bed that would have ruined the audience's sympathy for them in those rather more censorious times. It's all in their minds but their faces give the game away to each other and to the bystanders. Nothing happens to drag anyone near the awful divorce courts, but you are left wondering whether Celia will ever feel quite the same about her dull, comfortable, patronising and boring husband. As for Alec, he professes he will love her forever but then, he's a man.
Noel Coward produced this film from a short play of his from 1935 (the war and post-war shortages are absent), and his dulcet tones may be recognised in the railway station announcements. David Lean directed, and it is a remarkable collaboration. The action is opened out a little a row on the lake, a drive in the country - but the scenes from the play set entirely in the railway refreshment rooms still remain the centre of the story. The parallel relationship between Albert the station guard (Stanley Holloway), and Myrtle the refreshment room attendant (Joyce Carey), is an interesting counterpoint to the angst-ridden middle class would-be adulterers. Surely Noel old boy you weren't suggesting that the working class handles this sort of thing better? We see things largely from Laura's point of view and perhaps Alec didn't feel quite so guilty, but their consciences are going to make them pay. A gem of a movie.
Brief Encounter is probably one of the finest romances made by the English
film industry. The story line is simple, of a married woman who meets a
stranger and falls in love, belies the complexity of the emotions
It ends poignantly, as both parties realise that their feelings have been
overshadowed by the social impossibility of their situation.
The film is particularly good at reflecting the post-war austerity and morality of England. It may change your view of railway stations forever.
I didn't think I'd write this comment till I saw the 2 previous ones
criticizing 'BE'. I don't know how much this movie would appeal to
camp-followers of an in-your-face go-getting culture. Some of the frequent
adjectives describing this movie is 'civilised', 'restrained', 'noble'. To
those who call this movie dated, I'll say that these are indeed qualities
which are hardly followed & upheld today, especially in movies. However
movies do reflect contemporary social mores, & maybe the story of two
illicit lovers sacrificing their love for something as obvious as home &
family does not find to many buyers today.
For those who think a movie can convey some of the most intimate emotions, conflicts & visions known to us, those who believe 2 art forms (Rachmaninoff's 2nd, Lean's 4th) can coexist brilliantly, & finally for those who believed David Lean got body-snatched in mid-career to make over-blown nonsense like 'Dr. Zhivago' this is one of the best ways to spend 86 minutes!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
YOU CAN SAFELY READ MY INTRO - NO SPOILERS TO START
I adore this movie, more every time I watch it.
First, just a brief introductory summary to whet your appetite for this great picture (my all time favorite), a vintage black and white film set in Britain during the 1940's... During one of her weekly Thursday shopping excursions in a neighboring town, a rather plain (though earnest and engaging), contentedly married, middle aged housewife named Laura encounters an affable and kind (also married) doctor, Alec, at the train station refreshment counter. Circumstances force a brief interaction and thus begins a series of Thursday meetings between the pair, with casual chance acquaintance quickly replaced by growing and consuming attraction.
Most of the scenes revolve around the station tea shop which serves as a sort of "home base" to the affair. It is Laura's tale; thus the events and emotions are related totally from her point of view, all to the romantic strains of Rachmaninof's Piano Concerto. Read all the other rave reviews about the superb acting / character portrayals, the atmospheric enhancement of the whizzing and hissing trains, and so on. They're all true...plot, character, setting, and atmosphere are all done to perfection in this film.
BEWARE - SPOILERS AHEAD
However, if you want a little serious insight into this movie, consider my unique "take"....
Yes, it's dramatically moving and intense, that farewell touch of Alec's hand on Laura's shoulder. However, I'm probably one of the only viewers who regards this movie as a tribute to married love, as opposed to the middle aged affair between two ordinary people which is its obvious theme. True, the drama revolves around Laura and Alec, their encounters at the train station, their thwarted passions, and their guilt ridden emotions (especially Laura's). But, let's remember, Laura is narrating the tale as she wishes she could tell it to her husband, Fred, obviously her best friend and "the only one who would understand".
Well, isn't a new romance exciting, the more so if forbidden? Champagne lunches, boat excursions out in the countryside, daydreams of Paris and Venice, hanging on each other's every word. Don't we all sort of yearn for it every now and then? However, if Laura and Alec had remained together, before long they would have resembled...Laura and Fred! The Grand Romance seldom lasts, at least not in its original form; it takes on a more meaningful form. (Failure to realize this of course fills modern divorce courts.)
Poor dull Fred! He's my favorite character...I absolutely adore him! He often gets a bad rap from the other reviewers. Don't buy it! Really, there's nothing wrong with him. He probably reminds many a wife of her husband, engrossed with his crossword or whatever. Steady and predictable...the most desirable quality, longterm, in a spouse!
Everyone wonders why the movie shows Laura's husband but not Alec's wife, nor does it give us much information about her, other than the fact that she's "delicate". That's because Brief Encounter is really the story of Laura and FRED. Even though he's not present in that many scenes, his character is well drawn.
Fred may not currently be "sweeping Laura off her feet" but he's actually very kind to her. In the end, he realizes she's been having an affair and is grateful she's chosen him. I categorically disagree with those who claim that Laura returns to her husband only because of society's expectations, not out of love for him.
What happens after the movie closes? Well, maybe Fred pays her a tiny bit more attention and, hopefully, some spark of romance might be rekindled. As for Laura, I think she'll be extremely relieved that her affair WASN'T consummated, occasionally scold herself for her brief period of insanity, realize the depth of Fred's love, and try to make it up to him for her "emotional disloyalty". I doubt Laura will spend too much energy bemoaning what she might have had with Alec; the affair has made clearer to her what she DOES have with Fred.
It's "boring" (?), stable, committed love versus brief romance and passion. No movie portrays the contrast better than Brief Encounter. Pity more people today don't make the choice Laura and Alec did. The world might be a better place.
This movie puts to shame modern cinema where the main characters are generally in bed within the first five minutes. Don't miss it!
It really pleases me to see the very positive responses here to this gem of
a movie. I recently read Kevin Brownlow's epic, detailed biography of David
Lean, and I'm less mystified as to how Lean went from intimate character
dramas such as this one, and even GREAT EXPECTATIONS and OLIVER TWIST, to
the big-screen epics which placed far more emphasis on scenery and very
little on character. Lean had great problems with intimacy, and much
preferred grandeur (he virtually abandoned his son, and didn't meet one of
his grandchildren until she was about 30). I'm not knocking the epics,
because I've enjoyed them as well, but at the end of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA one
knows about as much about Lawrence as one did about 3-1/2 hours earlier. ..unlike Alec and Laura in this film, whom we know very well after 1-1/2
hours, or Pip and Miss Havisham in EXPECTATIONS, characters who leapt off
the screen and endeared themselves to us (it also helped that some really
gifted actors & actresses played these roles).
I never tire of BRIEF ENCOUNTER - it's one of the screen's great romances, perhaps because it doesn't quite end "happily ever after". It remains simple, honest, and unforgettable.
Steam ... cut-glass accents ... Rachmaninov's 2nd Piano Concerto ...
the refreshment room at Milford Junction ... "the shame of the whole thing -
the guiltiness, the fear ..." - it all adds up to David Lean's famous film
treatment of the Noel Coward tale of love blossoming and withering at a
suburban railway station. Laura Jesson is a complacent middle-class
housewife who gets a piece of grit in her eye one day and is helped by
Doctor Alec Harvey, and the romance begins.
Coward's screenplay is characteristic of his oeuvre. There is the neat precision of the circular plot, beginning and ending with the brainless intrusion of Dolly Messiter, and the matching sub-plot of the Albert-Mrs. Bagot courtship. There are tongue-in-cheek self-references (on the cinema screen, "Flames Of Passion" coming shortly) and the trademark Cowardian grounding in exaggerated Englishness ("One has one's roots, after all"). Most typical of all is that overwrought cascade of middle-class vocabulary (" ...so utterly humiliated and defeated, and so dreadfully, dreadfully ashamed"). Coward patronises working-class people abominably. Albert and Mrs. Bagot amble effortlessly through their romance because, bless them, they are simple folk. Alec and Laura suffer torments, having so much more sensitivity, and, you see, they have reputations to lose ("the furtiveness and the lying outweigh the happiness").
Having made the transition from editor to director in 1942, Lean was at the helm for the fourth time for "Brief Encounter", all four films being Coward projects - and a highly creditable job he made of this one. The scene in which Alec explains coal-dust inhalation and Laura falls in love is a model of sensitive direction. Reflections of Laura's face in the train window and the make-up mirror suggest in visual terms the existence of her 'other self', the id to her ego. Thundering steam trains and Rachmaninov stand for the irrepressible sexual urge. Stephen Lynn's flat, with its bachelor urbanity, contrasts cleverly with Laura's safe, staid home and safe, staid husband Fred ("I don't understand!") Alec's silent hand on Laura's shoulder is wonderfully poignant, the suppressed emotion eclipsed by stupid Dolly Messiter, her face filling the screen and 'wiping out' the great moment.
Sex has to be dealt with obliquely, but it is very much the driving-force of the film. "If we control ourselves, and behave like sensible human beings ..." offers Laura hopefully but hollowly. Neither man nor woman is capable of restraint, at least until after the climax in Stephen's flat. The boathouse and the little bridge hint furtively at sexual union. Other reviewers have declared the liaison to be 'unrequited' or 'unconsummated', but I am not so sure. In the grammar of 1940's cinema, the return to the love-nest of tousle-haired, hatless Laura is the equivalent, I would suggest, of our modern bedroom scene. Isn't that why Alec suddenly decides to take the job offer?
For me,a film addicted"Brief Encounter" is a polished diamond.It's the most perfect romance:You don't see lovers climbing balconys or dying in each others hand.What you see in "Brief Encounter"is two ordinary people in love.Only two normal people who stumble on one another in a railroad station and discover that they have more things in common,then meets the eye.So they started to see each other once a week,but their love are doomed,because they are both married and have very good lives.Celia Johnson is a sparklling gem as a house wife repressed who finds a man so repressed as she.That leads us to Trevor Howard.I know the reason of Celia's anguish.A normal woman simply could not resist to those eyes and the perfect face of Trevor,who embodies every english man in a simple wave,or just laughing in the theater.David Lean's soberb direction and Noel Coward's perfect story give space to show that you don't need to be Romeo And Juliet to tell that love's a good cause to fight,even when the fight is lost
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