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Brief Encounter

A chance meeting between two happily married strangers. Two people who met by accident, and fell in love. 

Year: 1945 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 (Academy) 
Certificate: BBFC PG Cert – Parental guidance 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by David Lean 
Starring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway  
An image from Brief Encounter

British cinema has never looked so urgent and rich; David Lean became known for his sweeping romantic epics like Doctor Zhivago, but this essence is distilled with more passion into the short-term domestic boredom of wartime weepie Brief Encounter.

Celia Johnson is Laura, a model wife and mother, who bumps into dashing doctor Alec (Trevor Howard) at a train station while on her errands. They chat, they date, and so begins a chaste affair; their cut-glass English accents may seem quaint, but the chemistry of the leads is perfectly played. As the events play out in confessional flashbacks, the beastly harmonies of Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto inject the sense of escapism and emotion that Laura and Alec crave, piercing the stasis which arguably drives them to pursue their illicit relationship.

Though the affair is adulterous, it is always respectful: the one moment where they are caught at a friend’s flat is still impossibly, cringingly sordid. And yet it is fascinating to consider its reputation as one of the most romantic films ever made, given the central couple is so apparently doomed. Yes, their pairing is electric: but Coward’s screenplay so piquantly compares this to the unhindered wooing of the tea-room lady by the bold train conductor. As well, the utterly caring and dear actions of Laura’s husband Fred - it would be far easier to make him a dolt, but the terrifying possibility is that the ‘brief encounter’ is less nourishing than the conventional relationships each person has at home. 80 years old it may be, but I defy your eyes to be dry at the conclusion.

Max King

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Screenings of this film:

2022/2023 Autumn Term (35mm)