Directed By: David Lean
Written By: Noël Coward; Anthony Havelock-Allan; David Lean; Ronald Neame
Celia Johnson – Laura Jesson
Trevor Howard – Dr. Alec Harvey
Stanley Holloway – Albert Godby
Joyce Carey – Myrtle Bagot
Cyril Raymond – Fred Jesson
Everley Gregg – Dolly Messiter
Language: English Genre: Drama; Romance
Milford station refreshment room, where commuters rest while they wait for their trains, is the setting for David Lean’s 1945 black and white film – Brief Encounter. The film is set to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and the haunting melody of the piece which starts with the train steaming into the station, sets the mood of the film.
Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway and Joyce Carey, it is a bittersweet romance between two married strangers who meet under the most ordinary circumstances and over succeeding weeks find themselves drawn to each other, unable to let go and unable to stay.
The film could have easily become the sordid love story of a bored housewife but is saved by Lean’s camera work and the poignancy of Celia Johnson’s narration. The beauty of the film is that it functions on one level as a silent film. In the sense that the viewer depends on the subtle but expressive emotions flitting across Laura’s face to really experience the ‘brief encounter’. Even the narration is carefully worded; honestly portraying the confusion, the romantic aspirations and the moral apprehensions of Laura Jesson. You experience her dilemma of being happily married yet in love with someone else.
The basis of the dilemma is “middle-class morality” as Alfred P. Doolittle famously stated in the film My Fair Lady (a role incidentally played by Stanley Holloway). You can see how the romance between Laura (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Harvey (Trevor Howard) is contrasted by the romance between Mr. Godby and Ms. Bagot. Their relationship functions on more liberal lines. The interesting thing is also that Ms. Bagot’s choices take her desires and ambitions more into consideration when compared to Laura.
An interesting scene or rather moment in the film, which can also be considered quite symbolic, is when Laura is seated in her front room, and her mind goes back to the moment when it all began – the scene slowly dissolves into the Milford refreshment room but there is a lingering after-image of Laura staring into the refreshment room.
Brief Encounter is an interesting choice for a DVD on a dreamy afternoon because as a movie it is well made – editing, both sound and film, cinematography and the inspired direction brings the story together but more importantly, for Celia Johnson who gives a moving portrayal as Laura Jesson. Unfortunately, she has a limited filmography, so watch it for her. That’s just in case, you’re not a David Lean fan.