Brief Encounter (1945)

What to say re: this film? It’s simply magical (even when you view it for the second time)! I saw it again (on TCM) last week; it’s also available on DVD from The Criterion Collection. The lead actors (who are in their early to mid-30s) are Brits who actually look like regular people. An upper-middle class housewife, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), meets doctor, Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), at a train station cafe when he helps remove a piece of dirt from her eye. Laura doesn’t think much of it, but then they keep running into each other in town. They talk, share lunch (and laughs), and go to movies (matinees) on Thursday afternoons. They (and the audience) realize that this relationship can’t go anywhere; they’re both married w/ two young kids. In fact, Laura’s husband (Fred) is depicted as a nice man; Alec’s two sons and wife are unseen (though she is described as “small, dark, and delicate”). Laura and Alec soon fall in love- neither can deny their feelings! 

I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people. -Laura (in voiceover) re: falling in love w/ Alec

It’s awfully easy to lie when you know that you’re trusted implicitly. So very easy, and so very degrading. -Laura (in voiceover) re: lying to Fred for the first time

Unlike most movies of the ’40s, we hear Laura’s perspective (in voiceover), getting us into the mind of a woman. David Lean (who went on to direct some epic films) decided to shoot this like a film noir. Laura and Alec are sometimes partly obscured by shadow. Perhaps this is done to show the danger in their pairing? Music is an element used very effectively as well; it adds to the drama in pivotal moments. 

Though this film is emotional, it doesn’t come off as showy or cloying (which is an achievement in itself). When Alec and Laura share their first kiss, the camera (perhaps respectfully?) pulls back to give them space. Fitting w/ the morals (and maybe also censors), their relationship is unconsummated. Brief Encounter has inspired many films (and spoofs) over the years. Check it out if haven’t before- you won’t regret it!  

[1] Johnson’s soulful eyes and capacity for displaying emotion is brilliantly used here… 

[2] 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…

[4] The story wonderfully explores the idea that sometimes it is easier to feel close and understood by someone you meet by chance as opposed to those who are close to us. People may not like the truism, but it’s human nature. 

-Excerpts from IMDB comments


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