Film Review: Brief Encounter

David Lean directed BRIEF ENCOUNTER in 1945, adapted from a play by Noel Coward. It details the short-lived yet life changing affair that housewife Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) has with Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) when they run into one another at a railway station refreshment room. Told in flashbacks and flashforwards, Laura narrates throughout, troubled by her guilt yet enthralled by the passion she feels for Alec.

By today’s standards this romance is rather tame, confined to dining out, going to the movies and having a few furtive kisses in the darkness. It is quite verbal and often witty in spots, which is understandable given its roots as a stageplay, but Mr. Lean opens it up and gives the story lots of air to breathe in, moving through time and space expertly and effectively. Both actors are low key and not prone to histrionics, and one can see that quiet desperation mounting as they realize that their love cannot be consumated, giving a melancholy longing to the proceedings. Compared to latter works like DR. ZHIVAGO and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, this is a small story told on an intimate and humane level, and I appreciate that very much.

For filmgoers going back in time, Brief Encounter is a stop worth making. All aboard!

Viewed on June 26th, 2012 on DVD (Criterion) in Somerville NJ

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