Brief Encounter

Director: David Lean


I didn’t find Brief Encounter a particularly sad film, as opposed to how Klein describes the film. “She and Howard are superlative in this saddest of stories, their every movement steeped in meaning and the sterling dialogue laced with deep emotion.” (209, Joshua Klein, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) It’s quite a subtle film – everything is quite sedate and understated. Although Laura (Celia Johnson) embarks on an affair with the handsome doctor, Alec (Trevor Howard) it’s a very controlled story. There is none of the sordidness you get with modern films when an affair is featured.

Brief Encounter Refreshment Room“[…] he exploited all the cinematic tools at his disposal; the lighting, for example, approaches the severe look of Lean’s subsequent Dickens adaptations, making the symbolic most of the dark, smoky station.” (209) The film is very atmospheric, especially when situated in the train station and I love the big station clock. I enjoyed the way almost the entirety of the narrative is delivered through Laura’s flashback. She’s very frank about the whole thing even though in reality she isn’t actually telling Fred anything. I found the lack of social commentary surprising. Although ultimately Laura ends the affair there isn’t any sense f their actions being condemned. They even walk along arm in arm discussing their other halves and nobody bats an eye. I guess I had just assumed that because the film was made in the mid 1940s it would take a more conservative approach towards the matter.

“[…] most importantly, Lean includes frequent close-ups of Johnson’s eyes, which tell a better story than most scripts.” (209) Celia Johnson has extremely expressive eyes and the emotional weight of the film comes across from her so strongly. She really is the very center of the entire film both narratively and emotionally. She drives the film and indeed much of the dialogue is Laura on her own, as so much is her telling the story through her internal confession to her unwitting husband.

Brief Encounter Celia Johnson Trevor HowardWithout a doubt my favorite scene is the final one but that’s more to do with already knowing the dialogue thanks to it being in my all time favorite film, The History Boys (2006, Nicholas Hytner) which everyone should watch by the way!

Brief Encounter as befits the name covers a fairly short amount of time – a few weeks of stolen moments; theirs was most definitely a short-lived affair and one that was more emotional than physical with only a few furtive kisses exchanged between the unlucky pair. It was more interesting than I thought it would be but by no means do I think it’s “[…] one of the most effective tearjerkers in cinema history” as Klein states. I’ve seen much sadder romance films, like The Notebook (2004, Nick Cassavetes) but then I wonder if it’s a generational thing that I find more modern films affect me more emotionally.


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