I had heard about this film for a couple years now and had seen it listed at the top of various lists. It’s also a Criterion release. I finally got the chance to watch this film.
Brief Encounter is a British film that is based on the 1936 Noel Coward short play, “Still Life” which was one of ten short plays that were performed under the title “Tonight at 8:30.” In 1945, this short play was adapted into the 86-minute film and was directed by David Lean. Lean later went on to direct such films as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.
This was an excellent film. This film depicts a budding romance between two married people, Laura (Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard), both married to different people, and the subsequent guilt both experience as their newfound relationship continues to thrive and begins towing the line between platonic friends and infidelity. For much of the film, they grow closer and closer until they have an opportunity to make their relationship more physical. This is the turning point in the film. They begin by spending the day together every Thursday when they’re both in town. Soon, it grows to them getting really cozy with one another until they’re regularly smooching on the quaint, romantic bridge.
Laura is a privileged middle-class British mother and wife (she has a servant and doesn’t seem to have many obligations in the way of housework or tending to the children). She goes into town every Thursday for shopping and going to the latest movie matinee at the theater. She also regularly dines at the tea shop at the train station–this where she meets Alec, a doctor who once a week, does consultation work at the local hospital. Despite her cushy lifestyle, Laura is bored. Her husband doesn’t seem to pay much attention to her in the evenings, preferring to complete his crossword puzzle. Their evenings are the same every night. When she meets Alec, suddenly, her life is interesting and fun. She feels feelings that she hasn’t experienced in quite some time.
The beginning of the film starts at the ending of the story. Laura is back home, sitting across from her husband, watching him complete his crossword puzzle. She stares at him, knowing that he is blissfully unaware of what has been going on in her life. She imagines herself confessing everything to him. Her internal confession serves as the narration for the events of the film. Suddenly, we’re at the train station before Laura meets Alec. Throughout the film, her narration demonstrates how conflicted and distraught, yet happy, Laura is in her relationship. There is also a scene where Laura, while on an outing with Alec, sees two acquaintances in the tea room. Suddenly, she is embarrassed and worried that the secret of her new romance will get out. I believe that this scene and the one where she’s conflicted about making her relationship with Alec more physical demonstrate that deep-down, she knows that what she and Alec are doing is wrong.
Most of the action of the film unfolds without either Laura or Alec’s spouses in the scene. Laura’s husband is only seen intermittently, Alec’s wife is not seen at all. I believe that the lack of spouses in the picture allow us to see the story entirely from Laura and Alec’s perspective and allows us to feel for Laura and Alec. While they are thisclose to cheating on their respective spouses, I found it hard not to root for them to end up together.
In addition to the story, I also really liked how the film was shot. The black and white cinematography provided a romantic, moody atmosphere. The train station was a wonderful setting. Doesn’t it seem like the best films involve some sort of train travel? I also liked all the steam coming from the trains and the music that repeated each time Laura and Alec were together. There were many interesting shots used in the film. One of my favorite shorts showcased Laura sitting in the train. We see her from the side, but we can see her entire face in the reflection on the window. Laura’s self-reflection is literally being reflected on the glass for the audience to see.
This was a great film. Highly recommended.