Saturday Night Cinema: Brief Encounter


Have you seen tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic, Brief Encounter? I have run it before on Saturday Night Cinema. This is one of the few films I have screened many,  many times and still, I want to watch it again. I watched it again yesterday and it tore me up. It is a deeply beautiful and painful love story. Directed by David Lean, this romantic masterpiece undoes me every time. Searing and powerful, it speaks directly to those souls routed by a miraculous terrible love. It is neither bourgeois or middle-class. It is that rare film that captures the rapture and the torment of  unexpected, overwhelming  love.

“We can’t do such violence to our hearts and minds.”

It was written by Noel Coward (whose reach extended to the worlds of literature, film, stage, and music) and directed by one of British cinema’s greatest ever directors, David Lean. Lean was Coward’s protege. The young editor had been noticed by Coward and promoted to help direct and then take over directing In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit and finally Brief Encounter.

NY Times review 1946:

Published: August 26, 1946

An uncommonly good little picture—and one which is frankly designed to appeal to that group of film-goers who are provoked by the “usual movie tripe”—is the British-made “Brief Encounter,” which opened on Saturday at the Little Carnegie Theatre as the first of so-called Prestige imports.

Being no more than an expansion of one of Noel Coward’s one-act plays—the conversational “Still Life,” from his “Tonight at 8:30” group—it is plainly an intimate drama, limited in every respect to the brief and extremely poignant romance of a married woman and a married man. And virtually all of the action takes place in a railway waiting-room and in the small English town adjacent thereto, where the couple make their fleeting rendezvous.

That’s all there is to the story—a quite ordinary middle-class wife, contentedly married and the mother of two children, meets a similarly settled doctor one day while on a weekly shopping visit to a town near that in which she lives. The casual and innocent acquaintance, renewed on successive weeks, suddenly ripens into a deep affection by which both are shaken and shocked. For a brief spell they spin in the bewilderment of conventions and their own emotional ties. Then they part, the doctor to go away and the wife to return to her home.

There are obvious flaws in the story. The desperate affection of the two develops a great deal more rapidly than the circumstances would seem to justify. And the cheerful obtuseness of the lady’s husband is more accommodating than one would expect. But the whole thing has been presented in such a delicate and affecting way—and with such complete naturalness in characterization and fidelity to middle-class detail—that those slight discrepancies in logic may be easily allowed.

Under David Lean’s fluid direction, Celia Johnson, who was memorable as the commander’s wife in Mr. Coward’s fine “In Which We Serve,” gives a consuming performance as the emotionally shaken lady in the case. Unprettified by make-up and quite plainly and consistently dressed, she is naturally and honestly disturbing with her wistful voice and large, sad saucer-eyes. And Trevor Howard, who has none of the aspects of a cut-out movie star, makes a thoroughly credible partner in this small and pathetic romance. Excellent, too, as characters in a flat, middle-class milieu are Joyce Carey, Cyril Raymond, Everley Gregg and Stanley Holloway.

BRIEF ENCOUNTER, screen play by Noel Coward, based on his one-act play, “Still Life”; directed by David Lean; produced by Mr. Coward in England and released in this country by Prestige Pictures, Inc. At the Little Carnegie Theatre.
Laura Jesson . . . . . Celia Johnson
Dr. Alec Harvey . . . . . Trevor Howard
Fred Jesson . . . . . Cyril Raymond
Barmaid . . . . . Joyce Carey
Station Guard . . . . . Stanley Holloway
Stephan Lynn . . . . . Valentine Dyall
Dolly Messiter . . . . . Everley Gregg
Beryl . . . . . Margaret Barton
Stanley . . . . . Dannis Harkin

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