I say you can never get too much of a good thing. It may not turn out well, but the quantity wasn’t to blame. Brief Encounter (1945) is written by Noel Coward, directed by David Lean, and stars Trevor Howard. What an excellent combination. Brief Encounter is one of those legions of films I’ve put off for years because I was never “in the mood” for it. I didn’t feel like watching a doomed romance filled with “Oh, dahling dntchoo leuv meh anymoe?” [That’s 40’s British melodrama language.] Of course, once the show gets going I revel in the accents and deeply felt drama. A few months ago, I came across the David Lean Directs Noel Coward collection put out by the Criterion Collection (for a fair bit cheaper than it is at present) and, realizing Coward was involved, decided that Brief Encounter needed to be bumped up to the “Urgent” tier of my movie queue. Of course I wasn’t disappointed, how could I be? Darling, I love you and I’ve always loved you. What is it to me if Georgie bought it over the Channel and Celia can’t go riding anymore? Is it all so terribly important? As long as we’re together…damn it all where’s she gone?
The bartender Myrtle (Joyce Carey) is bickering with that cheeky Albert (Stanley Holloway) again about something Fred’s done but is completely ignorant of. Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) is sitting quietly in the corner with Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), both despondent and moody. In comes the motor-mouthed gossip Dolly Messiter (Everley Gregg) and plops herself down right at their table. What could possibly be the matter? Alec is a friend of Laura’s, he’s just gotten a job in Africa. He leaves next week. There’s his train. A quick goodbye and he’s gone. Laura looks frightfully ill and, with some difficulty, she and Dolly get on their train and go home. Laura wishes she could talk to someone, but she daren’t talk to Dolly. The only one she can think to talk to is her husband Fred (Cyril Raymond). So Laura speaks to him, in her mind, recounting her brief encounter with Dr. Harvey and the deep affection that grew between them.
Brief Encounter is a very satisfying movie. Despite being made in 1945, this is a mostly euphemism-free story of English adultery. Of course, the only physical engagement is mouth-to-mouth, but it does get quite a bit closer to things biblical than I thought possible. Adultery on film almost always includes one evil spouse. Either the non-adulterer is evil and justifies the others’ actions or the adulterer is evil and the adultery is part of the proof. Here, everyone is quite lovely. It’s just a case of two people making a connection.
My central purpose in writing this review is to recommend it. Like so many movies, I find it difficult to illustrate precisely why I enjoyed it as much as I did. I could possibly recount scenes I liked or repeat praises in different words, but I simply lack the inclination. I will simply say that I loved the movie and can name these elements that contributed to my attraction. The actors are superb and infinitely charming as two people struggling with love against propriety. There is something in Trevor Howard’s voice or manner that resonates more than most others. The story is simple in the best possible way. The music, which consists almost entirely of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, is as excellent as you find that music to be. I, for one, find it to be one of the best pieces of music ever written.
You must see it. Kelly, you were right.