Classical Film Reviews · Film Reviews

Brief Encounter [1945]

Brief Encounter is a story about love being inescapable, about two people brought together by fate. You can call it ‘circumstance’ or ‘coincidence’, if you’re not a hopelessly old-fashioned romantic like me… But what’s the fun in making a film about it?

Filmed during the war, this love story comes from a time when falling in love wasn’t to be expected.

Much as in we begin at the end of the story.

In a railway station café, a man and woman are disrupted, mid-farewell, by a passing, busy-body aquaintance. It is only once we are taken- via flashback- into their story, as they unexpectedly fall in love, that we see the poignancy of that final meeting. Housewife Laura Jesson and doctor Alec Harvey met by chance but, although already married, they gradually fall in love with each other, meeting every Thursday in the small station café.

Their love is impossible but still beautiful to watch.

It’s perhaps an incredibly British thing but whilst the love is fantastical the characters are not glamourised. The lead, Celia Johnson was primarily a Stage actress, who appeared in merely a few films. She was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for the film, and I feel should have won.

Heavy make-up is employed to normalise a beautiful face, to make her older, ordinary and sympathetic. Adultery was taboo in 1945 and Brief Encounter was banned by the Irish censorship board on release, for sympathetically portraying an adulterer.

The film is based on a 1935 short one-act stage play “Still Life” by Noël Coward. The original play was merely five short scenes in a train station, whilst this version develops their encounters further, developing the burgeoning connection between Laura and Alec. It’s not all doom and gloom- there is one rather humorous moment where Alec near seduces her by loving whispering the names of lung diseases.

Brief Encounter is a beautiful, British film- quintessentially so. Laura evolves as a person, becoming more mature and at the same time more childish. She questions herself and doesn’t trust her own thoughts until she is secure in being loved. When Laura is distressed the lighting and staging are notably noiresque; her stunted passions blossom to drive the film.

Rather English; constantly putting oneself down. Much like having friends we dislike because it would be terribly ill-mannered to let them go…