Brief Encounter (1945) Poster

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Still life
jotix10018 January 2006
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 with it.

"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.
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An excellent, charming, moving film.
Lloyd-2322 November 2000
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.
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Briefly, a great film
Philby-320 June 2002
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 us.

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.
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A simple film with complex emotions
dj_kennett10 October 2000
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 involved. 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.
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Yes, an affair, but really a tribute to committed married love
roghache2 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers

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.


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!
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Ignore That First Review. This Is A Classic
gbtbag30 December 2003
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 moviemaking.

"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.
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Lean, spare & beautiful
Tipu25 March 2000
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!
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Simple, Honest, and Unforgettable.
Harold_Robbins10 August 2004
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.
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"Huge Cloudy Symbols Of A High Romance"
stryker-57 August 2000
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 (" 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?
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It's no use pretending that it hasn't happened because it has
sol-kay22 December 2006
**SPOILERS** Meeting quite by accident at the Milford train station British housewife Laura Jesson, Celi Johnson, got a speck of grit stuck in her eye that fellow passenger Dr. Alec Harvey,Trevor Howard, quickly came to her aid and washed out. Alec then slowly starts to get these strong feeling about the sweet and somewhat shy, as well as married, middle-age woman that in no time at all turns into an uncontrollable, by both Laura as well as Alec, love affair that in the end if not checked my well break up both of their marriage's.

Even though both Alec and Laura are married, not to each other, we only get to see Laura's husband and family in the movie which is shown in a long flashback, that takes up almost the entire film, from only Laura's point of view. After that innocent meeting at the train station the two always end up meeting on a Thursday when Laura travels to Milford to buy groceries and Alec has the afternoon off from work. Alec a doctor at the Milford hospital has a wife and family who we never get to see but sense are very much in love with him. Alec's life starts to take a sudden turn away from them as he starts to slowly fall in love with Laura.

You never once get the impression that Alec and Laura are willing to leave their wife and husband so that they can get married to each other. The two star-struck lovers only want to keep their affair secret and live double-lives but the guilt of the affair consumes Laura. For the first time in her marriage Laura lied to her husband Fred, Cyril Raymond, about her being in love with another man. Even though she admitted it to Fred in an almost whimsical way, that Fred took as a joke, Laura also realized that no matter how much she was in love with Alec, and he with her, in the end it would only lead to nothing but heartbreak for her as well as everyone, Alec together with her and his families, involved.

It was later when Alec got a job at his brothers new hospital in Johannesburg South Africa that both he and Laura could finally break up their affair by the two never having to as much as cross their paths again. Even saying goodbye to each other for the last time was never to happen when the two were interrupted at the train station by Laura's chatter-house friend Dolly Mesitter, Everly Gregg. Dolly's non-stop talking prevented the two from having the last few minutes together with each other but at the same time also prevented Laura from throwing herself on the tracks, by momentarily keeping her mind off the fact that Alec was about to leave her, as Alec's train left the station.

Extremely moving adult drama about two persons who find out only too late in life that they were meant for each other but missed the boat, or train, when it came into the station and have to do with what they have: try to forget they ever met no matter how much sorrow and grief it would bring them. Both Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard were touchingly effective as the star-struck lovers Laura and Alec who knew that their affair was doomed from the start and just had to accept what fate had handed them: try to forget that brief encounter they had one fateful evening in the railroad station outside of Milford.
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How Can I Describe Perfection.In Two words:Simply Sublime
vivian_baum_cabral25 May 2003
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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A Romantic's Vision Is A Romance Beyond Belief
Det_McNulty19 February 2007
Sir David Lean has left a genuine mark on cinema; he remains one of the most renowned and most celebrated directors in cinema. Some argue that he is the finest British director of all-time. He is a director who has made some of the finest classics ever, including the likes of, Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Oliver Twist. That is just to name a few, yet people always forget the outstanding and underrated delight, Brief Encounter.

Brief Encounter is a momentary story, however a film of which generations of film aficionados and the average film-viewer hold dear to their hearts. It was one of David Lean's first films and remains one of the most "British" films of all-time. It follows the story of Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) who by chance meets Dr. Alec Harvey (legendary British actor Trevor Howard) and it quickly becomes obvious that they have fallen in love, which swiftly develops into a full-blown affair. The film remains sympathetic towards the two main characters, both actors wonderfully act out the guilt they feel for deceiving their marriages. Yet, the both of them can not retain from showing their love for one another; the film revolves around the infamous set-piece of a train station and tea-room.

Brief Encounter was a highly controversial film upon release, even becoming banned in Ireland. Some may wonder why a film like Brief Encounter was controversial, there's no questionable content whatsoever and there is not one single explicit scene in film. Yet, the film does hold a beautiful sexual tension and shows sums up the "guilt-ridden love" which the protagonists feel for one another.

Brief Encounter is beautifully shot, evenly paced and forcefully depressing, while remaining beautifully layered in charm and wit. The characters are splendidly scripted and then crafted with elegance. Brief Encounter is a film that has prowess; a classic piece of film-making and a film that has "classic" written all over it. Brief Encounter is heart wrenchingly honest when showing emotion and being open on the phrase "love is a force beyond the power of nature". Brief Encounter is bittersweet and poignant, without being soppy, sloppy or over-sentimental.

Brief Encounter is a film that even today gets hailed as a classic of British cinema. It is also certainly a film in which the British Film Institute and British public hold dear to their classic cinema traditions. A highly recommended film and a romance that beats the cheesy, modern-day blockbuster romances, of which the market is horribly cluttered with.
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Matters of the Heart
jem13216 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
David Lean's 'Brief Encounter' was criticized when it was first released for being 'more like a French film'. Yes, that statement rings true, but 'Brief Encounter' is all the better for it's low-key, minimalist approach. It feels REAL.

The subject matter was scandalous for a film made in the 40's; primarily because the two parties involved in the affair were portrayed so sympathetically. Of course, this tale of illicit love will barely raise an eyebrow of outrage from modern film-goers, we've 'Been there, seen that'. Although no longer shocking in content, this film is still very powerful because of the deeply felt emotional states of the two characters, Alec and Laura.

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are perfectly cast as the ordinary housewife and married doctor. Johnson has more share of the action, as it is through her character that we view the pair's infidelity (achieved through flashback & voice-over). The pair are not glamorous or showy stars, so they are utterly believable in their roles as the ordinary, lovestruck Britons. Johnson's soulful eyes and capacity for displaying emotion is brilliantly used here; we, the viewer, feel her repulsion and disgust at what she has allowed to happen- 'I felt like a criminal'- but feel her torment, too. Howard is occasionally stiff, but still very, very good as the doctor who meets Johnson after she gets a piece of grit stuck in her eye. Alec, like Laura, is painfully aware of their situation, yet he is much more boyish and romantic- Indeed, when Alec talks about his desires to further himself in the field of medicine, Laura remarks 'You looked like a little boy, just then'.

Every 'brief encounter' between the pair has that sense of urgency, desperation. The constant use of trains and the Rachmaninoff music is symbolic of their restrained inner desires, as are the films playing when the two meet together (every Thursday) to attend the cinema. The use of shadows and lighting (exemplified when Howard kisses Johnson passionately in the shadows at the train station as an engine blows)are terrific. Lean's direction is wonderful, every scene is beautifully handled.

Amazing film.

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Brilliant camera-work
dpenrice30 January 2009
I have just seen "Brief Encounter" for the first time and was not only moved by it but also struck by the brilliance of how the cinematography helped tell the story of how hemmed in Laura & Alec are. It's not just how the train station--the refreshments room, the underground passage, and the platform in the opening shot--is used to create the sense of confinement but also the way that the whole film is shot in closeup. Even when Laura & Alec make their escapes to the country, the camera never pulls back to give you a panorama that might suggest that, at least for a few brief moments, they are free. Another effect of this technique is that not only do you feel how crowded Laura is by people like the silly acquaintance she runs into at the train station but you also virtually never see Laura & Fred in the same frame (until the very last shot, of course), which helps to portray her feeling of isolation. Then there are the shadows in the underground passage in the train station!--well, one could go on and on. Great cinematic storytelling.
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Film-making at its basic finest
jeffreylincoln16 November 2008
Brief Encounter is simply one of the best character studies you will ever see on the screen. Nearly every viewer will be reminded of similarities from their own life story. Who among us hasn't had strong feelings for someone they can never have?

Trevor Howard delivers stoic but believable lines. Celia Johnson conveys her inner conflicts with amazing realism. What really surprised me how Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto was so welcome to me as a viewer. Many times, especially in the older classics, I find the music a distraction. In Brief Encounter, each time the Concerto came on, it was a stirring moment.

Love is such a strange emotion. It is silly when we see it in others, and how it causes them to behave. On the other hand, it is very real to us when it hits home. This movie lets us inside the heads of two respectable people as they struggle with self-control and social boundaries.

I couldn't help thinking about how, were this movie made in today's Hollywood (maybe it has been remade???), we would have been treated to a bedroom scene or two. In my opinion, that would have cheapened the film and taken away from the intense romantic mood. Watch for Howard's hand on Johnson's shoulder in their final scene together. If it does not give you goosebumps, then you have been officially desensitized and should stick to modern, R-rated "romances!"
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Beautiful, classic love story
blanche-212 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Two people meet in a train station and have a "Brief Encounter" in the 1946 film directed by David Lean, based on Noel Coward's beautiful story of love found and love lost. There is much talk of a negative first review on this site; I confess I didn't read it.

Celia Johnson plays a married woman, Laura, who once a week goes into town to shop and see a movie; Trevor Howard is a married doctor, Alec, who helps a friend out one day at a week at a nearby clinic. The two meet while waiting for their trains, the assignations becoming more and more important to each, until they realize they've fallen in love. This is the 1940s in Britain, and there's no decision to be made.

This is a very famous movie, and I can still remember the scene in "Touch of Class" as Glenda Jackson and George Segal cry over it. That's far from the only film in which "Brief Encounter" is referenced: there's also 84 Charing Cross Road, Truly Madly Deeply, The Heidi Chronicles, The Care and Handling of Roses, The Mirror Has Two Faces, and many others. And with good reason. It's a tender love story about two good people who have probably never hurt anyone in their lives and find themselves in a precarious situation.

The story begins at the end, before the audience realizes what is going on when a chattering friend of Laura's (Johnson) joins her and Dr. Alec Harvey (Howard) in the café. Just then Harvey's train is called and he rushes off. Laura looks stunned. Her narration begins, continuing on the train and once at home as she, in her mind, tells her husband the story of her relationship with Alex, how they met quite by chance. Then he went with her to the movies. Before long, she was meeting him on Thursdays outside the hospital. Laura is riddled with guilt and finds herself lying to her husband (Cyril Raymond). We don't get the impression that Harvey is feeling equally guilty; in fact, one gets the impression that he would do anything to be with Laura. However, in the end, he takes drastic measures not to be with her.

Was the affair consummated or not? Nowadays, with email relationships going on, we know there's such a thing as emotional infidelity, and these two are definitely guilty of that. Physical? I have to agree that it's unclear. They have their special places - the bridge, the's up to the viewer. But Alec's decision certainly hints that something went on.

Johnson and Howard weren't beautiful Hollywood stars, which lends realism to the film. They were both attractive, Johnson with her huge eyes and Howard with his chiseled features. (Johnson, by the way, was the sister-in-law of Ian Fleming, and her children purchased the rights to his books.) Laura's marriage is conveyed realistically as well - not unhappy, but not really exciting either. Yet she knows her husband is a good man. He gets the last line in the film, and it's one of its most beautiful moments. Perhaps they will come together as they once did and appreciate one another all the more.

The film is scored with the music of Rachmaninoff - maybe it's a little too much at times, but at other times, it's achingly beautiful. The moment when Alec places his hand on Laura's shoulder as he leaves is one of the great moments in film, and a testament to the fact that love doesn't have to be shown using obvious sexual scenes, only with the use of some imagination.

Despite "Brief Encounter" being dated today, it serves as a strong metaphor for post-war Britain. During the war, both men and women experienced more freedom from class and social restrictions than they ever had, but afterward, things returned to their conventional ways. It was a hard adjustment for many. "Brief Encounter" shows what happened to two people bound by the mores of the times.
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Glowing characters laced with dreamy Rachmaninoff music
davidtraversa-11 July 2009
It's very difficult to add another comment when so many have been done and many of them so masterfully written.

I will not analyze the film because it was already done from all perspectives, with a fantastic mastering of the English language --which I don't have-- and with better knowledge of movies that also, I don't have.

I just want to say that among my favorite films ever, this one must be number one (maybe two).

Why is this picture so attractive and goes so deep into our subconscious? Is it the nostalgic black and white photography? Is it the Rachmaninoff music? Is it the old fashioned characters and their old fashioned clothes and utterly civilized manners?

Is it the fantastic English accents that make us regret the deplorable deliveries of our contemporary actors?

I couldn't tell. I just know that this film will stay forever in my mind, giving me a delightful and cozy feeling of gentler past eras I never knew but resentfully miss.
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Closely watched trains.
ptb-831 October 2009
I found this David Lean version of BRIEF ENCOUNTER to be a simply enchanting and entrancing film. Part of the enjoyment was the style of writing and acting that is purposely theatrical in order for the 1940s British subject matter to be handled in the fairly explicit way that it was. For those who 'don't get it' or find it boring well what can those who do 'get it' say? How sad perhaps that something so lovely and so humane and so complex in its dialogue and beautifully formal in its British tone cannot be enjoyed by a few who demand ..DEMAND.. it suit them in 2009. Hilarious! Maybe the multiplex mind thought BRIEF ENCOUNTER was about colliding underpants, which just might be right for them. CLASH OF THE TIGHT'UNS anyone? Maybe a remake with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore called HERE/NOW might be the right update. This gloriously stuffy and furtive Noel Coward play is transformed in this film to be the black and white smoky British damp equivalent of HUMORESQUE or NOW VOYAGER.. and if you love those films (so easy!) you will love this.
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"If you died you'd forget me – I want to be remembered"
Steffi_P24 June 2007
David Lean's final collaboration with Noel Coward stands head and shoulders above his previous efforts. It is also one of the greatest achievements in British cinema of the 1940s, which is saying something.

Firstly, this is quite simply a brilliant piece of writing from Coward. Much has been made of how daring it was in its acceptance of an extra-marital affair, but perhaps the real breakthrough was the frankness and realism with which it dealt with the universal experiences of love and heartbreak. It's beautifully simple and perfectly constructed. The idea of opening with the end of the affair, when we the audience know nothing about what has gone on, gives the final scenes such greater resonance when they come round again. The use of language is also inspired. Take for example Laura's daydream on the train, as she imagines dancing and dining with Alec in various exotic locations. As reality sets in again her monologue trails off into flat, everyday sounding words, taking us from the Caribbean to Ketchworth in a single sentence.

All through the picture Lean's direction matches pace with the screenplay. I've mentioned in other comments how much Lean has in common with Hitchcock, even though they made very different films. Brief Encounter shows the kind of thing Hitchcock could have turned out had he wanted to make a romantic drama. The use of jarring sound effects, emotional close-ups and voice-overs to convey the intense psychological states is perfectly suited to this kind of thing. More than once Hitchcock used whistling trains to mimic a nightmarish scream. Lean uses them to symbolise the soaring emotions of his protagonists.

This is a wonderfully rhythmic picture, right from the start, with the two trains perfectly timed to fly past at the beginning and end of the opening credits. The Rachmaninov piano concerto is ideal – just like Coward's play it runs the gamut of emotional tones, and there is enough in there to score a whole picture.

The decision to return to black and white after the uninspired use of Technicolor in This Happy Breed and Blithe Spirit was an essential one. From start to finish the film is packed with atmosphere, with drifting smoke, light and shadow. The tone would simply be unachievable were in not in monochrome.

As in The Happy Breed, Celia Johnson gives an amazing performance. Her delivery and her emoting are so natural and believable she helps prevent the film getting bogged down in staginess or melodrama.

For those that like to think of directorial careers in that way, this could be considered David Lean's graduation picture. It's also his masterpiece (yes, I'd say it's better than Lawrence of Arabia). Brief Encounter is a timeless and monumental piece of film-making.
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MOscarbradley13 May 2007
David Lean's great masterpiece has slipped in and out of fashion over the years and since it deals with so much that is mundane and is so terribly, terribly British it was inevitable that it would be lampooned mercilessly. Yet few films have struck the kind of emotional chord with audiences as this one has. Although it deals with a milieu that is regimentally insular and with characters whose very ordinariness strikes you as somewhat peculiar, it has a universal appeal. Who isn't susceptible to a chance encounter with someone who, perhaps only for an instant, appears more handsome, more exciting than anyone or anything else in our lives. Innocence isn't an excuse and feelings are everything.

Laura Jesson's idyll with the handsome doctor she meets on a station platform is hopelessly romantic because it is so innocent and so inconsequential. What Laura and Alec feel for each other transcends the drabness of their lives and their surroundings and creates possibilities that in the everyday we can only dream of. Of course, one reading is that of gay wish-fulfillment; the impossibility of the central conceit and as Laura says 'the shame of the whole thing, the deceit, the fear', something Coward would have been well aware of as a gay man in the 1940's, dreaming of the perfect partner outside of the constraints of society. It's only one reading, naturally but it can't explain the film's universal popularity. Love, not sex, has no boundaries.

It's magnificently made. Lean uses only a few sets and locations. It's as if Laura and Alec are caged in by their surroundings and their emotions and can never escape the shabby tea-rooms and cinemas where they meet. Yet Robert Kraser's luminous black-and-white cinematography keeps adding a dimension to proceedings as if the shadows thrown up only serve to heighten the protagonist's guilt. And as Laura and Alec, Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard were never better. Indeed Johnson gives one of the cinema's great performances; the simple mundane words and actions stand in complete contrast to the naked emotionality on display. If the film is heartbreaking it is Johnson who breaks your heart. Today we may feel smugly sophisticated and think of films like "Brief Encounter" as 'old-fashioned'. If we do, then the loss is ours. "Brief Encounter" may never again make the lists of time best films yet it will always remain a timeless classic.
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Dark, moody and highly irresistible.
bobsgrock6 November 2008
David Lean's small masterpiece about forbidden love and failed relationships set amidst the atmospheric sects of suburban London is one of those movies that certainly stays with you and not for all the happy reasons. Cella Johnson and Trevor Howard perfectly portray two people in rather normal marriages and lives, yet feel unfulfilled and begin a simple yet passionate romance that lasts for weeks and changes them both, especially the woman, whom we see from her point of view. As the story progresses, we see the dullness and melancholy she goes through and the one chance at excitement and change she has when going out every Thursday. It is here she meets a handsome doctor and they obviously have feelings for each other. This story has been done many times, but in director Lean's hands, the film is centered on the two lovers and their tumultuous relationship. The film is very brief at only 86 minutes, but I think it is a testimony to the relationship of these two people and how it will impact their future. As mentioned before, the acting is strong especially in some small supporting parts with Stanley Holloway as a flirtatious stage conductor. The photography is moody and perfectly captures that dark, eerie feeling of post-war England. All elements come together in this terribly tragic but ultimately moving story about men, women, and everything that can happen between them.
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The Original Doomed Love Affair, Beautifully Restored With a Soaring Johnson
EUyeshima20 December 2005
Long before he made his grand widescreen epics, master director David Lean made small, intimate films about normal people who find themselves outside of their comfort zones. His most famous of these early works - and arguably the gold standard by which all ill-fated love stories are compared - is this 86-minute treasure from 1946. It is the rather simple story of a chance meeting between housewife Laura Jesson and Dr. Alec Harvey in the refreshment room of a suburban London train station. The plot starts innocently enough when Alec removes some smut from Laura's eye, but then they inevitable become drawn to each other and fall in love.

Lean employs a flashback technique to tell the story (penned by Noel Coward along with Lean and Anthony Havelock-Allan) and actually begins with the quiet farewell between Laura and Alec. From there, Laura recalls the entire story, narrating in a breathless and at times frantic voice-over. Watching the events unfold in her memory and listening to her narration, we are drawn completely into her mind as Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto floods the soundtrack. Despite their respective marital statuses, the two begin to fall in love and soon enough, romance and even lust (at least in typically stiff upper-lip British form) have shown up on the scene. After a while, they start to meet on a very regular basis and though both know it will never work, they still spend time together.

Leave it to Lean to transcend the tendency to produce a predictably romantic and masochistic wallow and come up with a more complex set of conflicting emotions. Probably because Laura's narration is so honest and involving, this movie resonates far more than a more Baroque "chick flick" like Irving Rapper's "Now, Voyager" or Jean Negulesco's "Humoresque". Granite-jawed Trevor Howard portrays Alec with sympathy and unapologetic yearning, but it's Celia Johnson who galvanizes the film with a multi-layered performance as she makes Laura's desperation palpable but never off-putting. With her saucer eyes and emotionally pinched demeanor, she truly brings a genuine soul to this vulnerable, emotionally closeted woman who is unable to come to terms with her unconsummated affair. Providing just the right amount of comic relief are Joyce Carey as the haughty refreshment room hostess and Stanley Holloway (well before his ne'er-do-well Alfred Doolittle in "My Fair Lady") as the persistent train station attendant who constantly flirts with her.

Criterion has once again done a superb job in bringing this movie to life as the pristine print really brings out Robert Krasker's crisp cinematography. Film historian Bruce Eder provides informative audio commentary on an alternate track and goes in-depth into not only the production but also the careers of Lean, Coward and all the actors with speaking parts. Beyond that, there is the original trailer and an interesting demonstration of the restoration process. If you have seen Claude Lelouch's "A Man and a Woman" (with Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant) or Ulu Grosbard's "Falling in Love" (with Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep) or Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" (with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) or Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" (with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) owe yourself to see the original inspiration.
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An intriguing mix of the timelessness of the theme with the utterly time-specific weirdness of 'received British' voices and mores.
shirley12vineyard16 April 2005
A spoiler can't apply here, as the title gives the show away. Viewing this film in 2005 is an experience. Firstly, to be reminded that 'class' Brits really did speak (then) like these main characters (the sheer speed of that RB speech for a start) against the pervasive time warp for this viewer raised in far away New Zealand. Decades rolled back and I recall how many older acquaintances 'way out here' simply LIVED for these British treasures, just loving the sheer clipped classiness of them all. Against that is the still relevant timelessness of an unsought, unexpected event of two people already married falling headlong into a 'true love' but which in today's 'freedoms', would be relatively OK to go along with, and never mind the fall-out of 'broken homes' etc.

As historical evidence it is almost surreal to be reminded that middle-class women really did lead such challenge-less lives of 'duty' in this case to a suit-wearing but always kindly husband and a child, and the train trip to town to shop, have lunch, and go (alone usually) to a movie was the uplifting event of the week.

Despite the uncomfortable reminder that this really was how dutiful middle-class Brits (and others) expected to live their lives, David Lean with Noel Coward's material transcends the unbearably mundane to an absorbing viewer engagement that lasts many hours after. Despite the inevitability of the outcome being signalled through the technique of voice-over protagonist recall, I couldn't help being drawn into the minutiae of the life-changing encounter, nurturing an empathy right through that something good just might happen to bring around a happy ending.

I learnt later that this was filmed whilst World WarII was still going on, but the war forms no part of the narrative, and the location was a single railway centre in a small township apart from London and any possible sounds of war.

Absorbing, engaging and memorable. Celia Johnson is the stand out star.
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upper-class shopping and railway travel
didi-514 May 2003
Noel Coward's short play Still Life was an unusual stepping off point for his full-length screenplay for Brief Encounter, which had some changes (notably in the relationship of our hero and heroine, or how far it gets) and gave Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson excellent roles in this very British mega-weepie. Rachmaninov's 2nd helps considerably, but the housewife and the doctor and their doomed romance, however improbable, manages to be both funny and touching, and Johnson in particular manages to put across the helplessness of a happily married woman who lets a new window open, just for a moment, in the realisation that it will be her only chance. David Lean's direction is atmospheric and sympathetic, and there are a number of choice smaller parts for the likes of Joyce Carey and Valentine Dyall. Perhaps the best of the Coward-Lean collaborations.
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Steam Trains and Rachmaninoff
JamesHitchcock5 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Like many film buffs, I am often surprised when a film director wins the "Best Director" award at the Oscars or some other ceremony and yet the film itself is denied "Best Picture". Re-watching "Brief Encounter" recently helped me to understand how such a thing might be possible. There is no doubt that it is a superbly directed film and that David Lean's "Best Director" Oscar nomination was well-deserved. Nevertheless, I have never been convinced by the arguments of those who would claim the film as a great classic of the British cinema.

This was Lean's fourth film, and like his first three ("In Which We Serve", "This Happy Breed" and "Blithe Spirit") was based upon a work by Noël Coward, who adapted the screenplay from his one-act play "Still Life". It tells the story of the relationship (the "brief encounter" of the title) between Laura Jesson, a middle-class housewife, and Alec Harvey, a doctor. The two meet at a railway station while she is returning from a shopping excursion to a nearby town, and arrange to meet again. They quickly become friends and then fall in love. Although their relationship is never consummated (the censors were insistent on this point), they come to care deeply for one another and make plans for a life together. Both, however, are married with two children, and although divorce was legally possible in the Britain of the forties, it was very much frowned upon by social convention. The story is narrated by Laura in the first person, imagining that she is confessing her affair to her husband Fred.

Many people assume that the action takes place in Home Counties suburbia, and certainly the accents (either Received Pronunciation or Cockney) are suggestive of south-east England. Only one character, a policeman who appears briefly, has a northern accent. Other factors, however, do suggest a northern location, notably Alec's reference to coal mines in the vicinity, the initials LMS (London, Midland and Scottish Railway) on the railway carriages and the rugged scenery in the countryside scenes. Finally, the matter is settled when we see references to cities such as Leeds, Bradford and Lancaster on the destination boards on the station platform. (These scenes were actually shot at Carnforth station in Lancashire).

The whole of Coward's play is set in the station refreshment room. Although Lean does open the film up by introducing other settings, such as Laura's home or a cinema, many of the key scenes still take place at the station, and it is in these scenes that Lean shows his gifts as a director to their best advantage. The black-and-white photography of the steam trains is particularly striking and takes on a symbolic quality; constantly in motion, rapidly arriving and departing, they seem to stand for the rapidity of change in human affairs, and in particular the rapidity with which the romance of Laura and Alec develops and then come to an end. These scenes have become even more evocative ever since the steam locomotive ceased to be an everyday means of transport and became a potent symbol of nostalgia.

"Brief Encounter " may have been beautifully photographed, but I was less enthusiastic about either the writing or the acting, both of which are characterised by a deadening emotional reticence which does not sit well with either Lean's dramatic direction or the use on the soundtrack of that supremely romantic piece of music, Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. This is supposed to be the story of an all-consuming, albeit unconsummated, passion, but one would not think so to judge from Coward's script. Coward's greatest gift as a writer was his mordant wit, which he could put to good use in his comedies, but his attempts to write serious drama could often seem artificial and mannered, the sort of drawing-room theatre which in the next decade was to be so angrily rejected by the Angry Young Men.

Nor would one think so from the well-mannered gentility with which Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard mouth their lines. For all their talk of love and desire, I was never convinced that either of them really felt the emotions they were talking about. Even during her lifetime Johnson was regarded as something of a national treasure by an older generation of film-lovers, but I always found her cut-glass accent grating, an early case of Irritating Vowel Syndrome. In this film she sounds more like an aristocrat than any Lancashire housewife (or even London housewife) I have ever heard.

We never see Mrs Harvey, so never learn why Alec was dissatisfied with his existing marriage, but in Laura's case we are supposed to infer that she finds Fred dull, although he is caring and affectionate. Unfortunately, Alec, although idealistic, does not come across as being any more exciting than Cyril Raymond's Fred. Trevor Howard never suggests that if Laura were to leave her husband for him she would be doing any more than exchanging one stolid bourgeois suburbanite for another. (It does not help that, although Howard was only 32 at the time, he looked considerably older). Howard was to give some great performances in films like "The Third Man", but this is not one of them.

One criticism made of the film is that it is "dated", by which is normally meant that attitudes towards sex have changed since the forties. It is certainly true that divorce does not carry the stigma that it did seventy years ago, but there is still a widely held view that adultery is immoral and many modern viewers will still sympathise with Laura and Alec's decision to put their families and their marriages before their love for one another. The problem is that neither Coward, Johnson nor Howard are able to persuade us that this decision really involved any great sacrifice. Lean does his best, but steam trains and Rachmaninoff can only take you so far. 7/10
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