It all begins quietly at a train station. A man and a woman (Trevor Howard, Ryan’s Daughter, and Celia Johnson, In Which We Serve) are sharing a cup of tea while waiting for the train. They say goodbye to each other, and that’s that. Something is not right about the farewell. The woman then begins to reminisce back to the events that led to the peculiar goodbye.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“It’s awfully easy to lie when you know that you’re trusted implicitly.”
Brief Encounter is what one would call a “happy accident.” No one, not even director David Lean, expected the film to achieve legendary status, but it’s often listed among the greatest British films of all time. The film holds very few surprises, but it’s beautifully crafted and highly watchable.
After working with Noel Coward on three films — In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, and Blithe Spirit — director Lean wanted to move away from his mentor. Lean was keen on making a film about Queen Mary of Scotland. Coward allegedly told Lean that he should stick to contemporary dramas (Lean, of course, didn’t heed Coward’s advice — some of Lean’s best films are period dramas!).
Coward asked Lean to consider adapting one of his lesser known playlets, Still Life. Lean didn’t like it, but after a few revisions, the director became enthused with the material. Perhaps Lean, who was known for having a troubled love life, felt some kind of kinship to illicit lovers — Brief Encounter is devoid of any personal or moral judgment.
Producers Anthony Havelock-Allan and Ronald Neame helped Lean write the screenplay. The first great thing they did was to avoid turning the protagonists into unhappily married spouses. These are nice, ordinary people who find themselves in a difficult situation. As I said before, Brief Encounter doesn’t preach to the viewers.
The film, despite its brevity and simple storyline, is a visual treat. From a technical standpoint, it is still one of Lean’s best movies. He proves to be a stylist par excellence. Lean is ably assisted by the talented Robert Krasker, who is probably best known for his Oscar-winning work in Carol Reed’s The Third Man.
The acting is fantastic. Lean took a chance on Trevor Howard, who was then an inexperienced film actor. Celia Johnson was Lean’s first and only choice for the role of the housewife. She gives an unforgettably poignant and nuanced performance. Johnson narrates beautifully, too. Her melodious voice helps create the proper melancholic tone. The fine cast also includes Stanley Holloway (My Fair Lady) as Albert Godby.
The 2nd piano concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff is used to great effect. Composer Muir Mathieson (49th Parallel and In Search of the Castaways) wanted to write an original music score, but Coward asked Lean to use Rachmaninoff’s famous melody. At first Lean and Mathieson resisted, but they later admitted that Coward was right — the huge success of the movie helped popularize Rachmaninoff and his music.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
All in all, Brief Encounter is a superb production. It’s quite possibly the best romantic drama of its time. The cast is extraordinarily good. It’s a fine example of director David Lean’s technical brilliance — it’s definitely one of the director’s best movies. Highly recommended! B&W, 85 minutes, Not Rated.