Brief Encounter (1945)

One of David Lean’s finest early works, this is a heartrending exploration of the joy and torment of an impossible love, as experienced giddily in a chance encounter by two strangers who are already married.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,163

Dir. David Lean
1945 | UK | Drama/Romance | 86 mins | 1.37:1 | English
Not rated – likely to be PG13

Cast: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway
Plot: Laura, a housewife, entertains the idea of having an affair with a doctor whom she meets at a café in a railway station. 
Awards: Won Grand Prize (Cannes); Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Screenplay
Source: ITV Studios

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Adultery, Love
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Before In the Mood for Love (2000) or Before Sunrise (1995), there was Brief Encounter, one of the finest romance films ever made. 

Some have called David Lean’s film a postwar work, but there are no traces of WWII or its aftermath in the film—well, that’s because the setting is in the 1930s as a housewife has a chance encounter with a married doctor at Milford Junction, a local railway station. 

They fall in love, something they can’t fathom or believe would happen, but trust their feelings to guide them to the right place. 

Celia Johnson is superb as Laura, the housewife in question, bringing a subliminal quality to her performance, one that demands her character to earn our empathy despite the seemingly amorous scenario (it has to be said though that none of them have amorous intentions at all). 

This is perhaps why Brief Encounter is so tantalising, that it shows how love can strike at any moment—unguarded, unresisted and unfeigned. 

“I’ll forgive you if you’ll forgive me.”

It’s the type of unbridled, joyous love some of us might hope to experience giddily someday, yet Lean’s heartrending exploration of an impossible adulterous affair is also tormenting to the soul. 

It’s also difficult to come out of Brief Encounter without being emotionally shaken, such are the affecting performances and Noel Coward’s deceptively straightforward script, which he expanded from his one-act play called ‘Still Life’. 

Lean’s use of Rachmaninoff’s beautiful ‘Piano Concerto No. 2’ as a music cue also proves to be a masterstroke, particularly in its opening scene. 

One could already feel the rush and gush of everything symbolic that is to come in the music.  For the unfortunate, love is indeed as fleeting as the arrivals and departures of trains at Milford.

Grade: A



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