This movie review is one that I am most happy to write. Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean has to be one of the best movies I have seen. This movie was originally released on November 26, 1945 in the United Kingdom. It was released in America on August 24, 1946. The movie stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. The screenplay was written by Noel Coward who based it on his book Still Life. Unfortunately, this movie was not available for streaming on Netflix, so I streamed it from Amazon instead.
Brief Encounter is about a married man (Dr. Alec Harvey) and a married woman (Laura Jesson) who meet in a train station and happen to naturally fall in love with each other without ever intending to. Having an affair was not on their minds when they met. It all happened quite innocently and in a very non-sordid kind of way. There is no meeting in hotels to have sex or anything like that. Laura and Alec simply met at a train station and from there, their paths kept crossing.Celia plays the part of Laura Jesson. Celia is perfect in the role. Her large expressive eyes are revealing. She actually reminds me of the way Daniela Denby-Ashe used her large expressive eyes in North and South, and all of a sudden I began to think that Daniela and Richard Armitage would be perfect in a remake of Brief Encounter.
Trevor Howard plays the part of Dr. Alec Harvey and he gave an awesome performance. Trevor Howard is handsome, but in a non-conventional way. The delivery of his lines was off the chart. The way Trevor kept uttering “I love you” was PERFECTION. Trevor Howard spoke those words of love so softly, and with such tenderness, yet with such profound conviction and surety.
The above screen-cap shows the first meeting of Laura and Alec. Laura was watching the express train go by when something flew into her eye. Alec comes to her aid and manages to get the grit out of her eye. Laura is a suburban housewife who takes the train into town every Thursday to go shopping, stop at the library for a book and then take in a movie at the cinema before returning home. Alec goes into town every Thursday to consult at a local hospital.
After running into each other again at a restaurant Alec asks to join her at her table since there are no other tables available. After lunch Alec asks Laura if he can join her at the cinema. Many people watching this movie would probably say that their love began to unfold from this point, but I say that it began to unfold the day he helped her get the grit out of her eye. It was not in a way that was conscious to either of them though. This is one of the things that makes this love story so sweet. I would also have to say that the love they had for one another was not what either of them ever experienced with their respective spouses. It was a first for both of them. I am sure that Laura loved her husband, but I don’t believe it was in the same way. Laura was content in her marriage but something was missing and she did not know that until she met Alec. I would say the same for Alec, otherwise their hearts would not have been open to one another.
Laura’s husband (Fred Jesson) obviously cares about Laura and I would even say that he loves her, but he is not attentive. After dinner they sit together in the family room but he is always busy doing crossword puzzles and not really listening to his wife while she is trying to have a conversation with him. Fred seems like a good man but one seems content to live without passion.
As Alec and Laura begin spending every Thursday together, their love for one another began to innocently embed itself within the fabric of their beings.
I love this scene when Alec decides to face the truth of the fact that he is in love with Laura and decides to tell her.
“Dr. Alec Harvey: I love you. I love your wide eyes, the way you smile, your shyness, and the way you laugh at my jokes.
Laura Jesson: Please don’t.
Dr. Alec Harvey: I love you. I love you. You love me too. It’s no use pretending it hasn’t happened cause it has.
Laura Jesson: Yes it has. I don’t want to pretend anything either to you or to anyone else. But from now on, I shall have to. That’s what’s wrong. Don’t you see? That’s what spoils everything. That’s why we must stop, here and now, talking like this. We’re neither of us free to love each other. There’s too much in the way. There’s still time, if we control ourselves and behave like sensible human beings. There’s still time.”
One of the things that I love about this movie is that both Alec and Laura keep in mind that in the midst of their love they are married to other people and having an affair is wrong. Their love is real and from the heart and soul, but other people have to be considered. Alec and Laura both have two children as well. Neither wants to hurt their spouses and children. Feelings of guilt and shame are felt by both of them, regardless of the fact that neither of them intended for this to happen.
After having dinner together the coupe runs into one of Laura’s friends. Laura had no idea that the two women were also in the restaurant and saw her with Alec. Laura is very uncomfortable and has a hard time forgetting the incident.
Alec arranges for them to have a private rendezvous at a colleague’s apartment. Alec’s colleague returns home earlier than expected. Laura runs out the back door but Alec’s colleague figures out what was going on after seeing Laura’s scarf left on his couch.
There is such wonderful chemistry between Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. You can feel the intense love they have for one another, and also the struggle they are feeling having to deal with it.
Alec and Laura finally agree that because of their responsibility to their families that their love is doomed and must part. Alec decides to take a position in South Africa. Extreme distance is the only way they will be able to stay away from one another. They decide to meet one last time the following Thursday.
Alec tells Laura that he is willing to forgo the job in South Africa and stay with her if Laura wants him to, but Laura insists that he is doing the right thing. Neither of them wants to hurt their families.
Their last day together is bittersweet and sadly interrupted by one of Laura’s gossipy neighbors who intrudes on the last few moments they will ever be together in this life.
Alec finally walks out to catch his train and out of Laura’s life forever.
Laura goes back home, and to the husband and life that will never be the same. I love how this movie was directed and how the story unfolded. It starts at the end and is told through Laura in the first person. Laura is confessing to her husband in front of him in her mind.
A good part of the movie takes place in the train station. It is always night-time and very few people are around which sort of symbolizes where their love is going…..(nowhere). The railway station scenes were mostly filmed at Camforth railway station in Lancashire. The refreshment room at the station was a studio creation. Other parts of the film were shot around London.
I cannot recommend this movie enough. I loved the way the subject matter was handled. I think it is handled very sensitively and tastefully. Alec and Laura were also two very respectable people. They did not fall in love after screwing one another which is what would probably happen if this movie was being made today. A remake of Brief Encounter was made in 1974 starring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren. I will be streaming that version too and writing about it.
Celia Johnson, David Lean and Trevor Howard on the set of Brief Encounter.
Here are some more memorable lines from Brief Encounter:
“Dr. Alec Harvey: I do love you, so very much. I love you with all my heart and soul.
Laura Jesson: I want to die. If only I could die…
Dr. Alec Harvey: If you’d die, you’d forget me. I want to be remembered. “
Dr. Alec Harvey: Could you really say goodbye? Never see me again?
Laura Jesson: Yes, if you’d help me.
Dr. Alec Harvey: I love you, Laura. I shall love you always until the end of my life. I can’t look at you now cause I know something. I know that this is the beginning of the end. Not the end of my loving you but the end of our being together. But not quite yet, darling. Please. Not quite yet.
Laura Jesson: Very well. Not quite yet.“
Do yourself a favor and watch this movie.