Brief Encounter At a café on a railway station, housewife Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) meets Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). Although they are both already married, they gradually fall in love with each other. They continue to meet every Thursday in the small café, although they know that their love is impossible. A chance meeting between two happily married strangers. Two people who met by accident, and fell in love.
Simply, a great film
There’s not a lot to say. Like many classics this film is simply constructed with all the elements in balance so that none stands out. Everything in it contributes something essential; the lighting, the unromantic railway station sets, the minor characters and of course the music, the ultra-romantic Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no 2. The emotional rollercoaster of the illicit affair has seldom been better portrayed. Perhaps it is a little understated for transatlantic tastes but no-one viewing this movie would not appreciate that the English can be as passionate as the rest of us.
Celia Johnson as Laura and Trevor Howard as Alec are perfect together. It being 1945, they do not get to bed – that would have ruined the audience’s sympathy for them in those rather more censorious times. It’s all in their minds but their faces give the game away – to each other and to the bystanders. Nothing happens to drag anyone near the awful divorce courts, but you are left wondering whether Celia will ever feel quite the same about her dull, comfortable, patronising and boring husband. As for Alec, he professes he will love her forever but then, he’s a man.
Noel Coward produced this film from a short play of his from 1935 (the war and post-war shortages are absent), and his dulcet tones may be recognised in the railway station announcements. David Lean directed, and it is a remarkable collaboration. The action is opened out a little – a row on the lake, a drive in the country – but the scenes from the play set entirely in the railway refreshment rooms still remain the centre of the story. The parallel relationship between Albert the station guard (Stanley Holloway), and Myrtle the refreshment room attendant (Joyce Carey), is an interesting counterpoint to the angst-ridden middle class would-be adulterers. Surely Noel old boy you weren’t suggesting that the working class handles this sort of thing better? We see things largely from Laura’s point of view and perhaps Alec didn’t feel quite so guilty, but their consciences are going to make them pay. A gem of a movie.