Brief Encounter by Noel Coward
Some years ago, I requested this book from the library thinking it was the movie. When it finally came, I realized my mistake and got the DVD as well. I thought I may as well read the screenplay. It has been awhile since I read a play rather. Actually, I don’t remember the last time I even read a screenplay.
This is a story about two people who fall in love at the wrong time. It is a story full of observation, simplicity, introspection, and Englishness. It has characters who are repressed, restrained yet they are still capable of deep love and feelings. It captures the yearning and initial rush of new love. It is excellent directed and has a great soundtrack featuring Rachmaninoff.
There is a saying that to make a relationship work you must have chemistry and timing. Alec and Laura had chemistry; there is an almost unexplainable attraction to one another. It is not as if Alec or Laura seem to be terribly unhappily in their marriages or at least in Laura’s case. We know less about Alec. The one thing I am critical about is that Alec is not as developed as Laura; the audience never quite get to know him. Maybe that is the point from Laura’s perspective too. She fell deeply for a man she barely knew, but they had a great yet short time together and she knew that and her own desire for him.
Maybe it is the romantic in me that believes that two married people could fall in love so suddenly because their lives had become so dull and pedantic. It is believable that neither of them seems to have actually ever been in love with their partner. I actually think this story is rather realistic or has emotional reality.
The film portrays these feelings and interactions perfectly.
The last time I saw Brief Encounter movie was 2004. I loved it then, and I’ve always thought fondly of it. I also love the movie for being so part of its time. It has all these little details about the 1940s England such as the fashion, the mannerisms, the dialogue, the shops, and services. It’s a lovely time capsule. It’s been awhile since I watched a black and white movie; I’ve always been fond of old movies.
David Lean is one of my favourite directors from the early and mid twentieth century. I actually prefer Brief Encounter slightly over his other films though I have enjoyed all of his films. I also like Lawrence of Arabia and the visuals of Doctor Zhivago. Lean has a way of lighting and as a film editor first, I think his pacing and mood setting is impeccable.
Cecilia Johnson and Trevor Howard have good chemistry. They are good at being giddy new lovers, but also good at being restrained and repressed ones. The scene where they are in the flat is charged with this sexual tension. There was a 1974 remake with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren which the introduction of the screenplay noted was terrible. Indeed, that casting sounds quite unlike the characters in the original, but I’m now a tad morbidly curious about it.
I think I have a weak spot for realistically doomed romance movies, not one where the characters die (Romeo &Juliet) but where life makes it harder and difficult for them to be together such as this film. Another film I love that is similar is Roman Holiday. Happy endings are good to watch, but there is also something really poignant and real about not having them or giving emotional weight to when relationships don’t work or get closure.
This is not a perfect picture, but I do adore it and would rewatch it again.
On a last note, I discovered Brief Encounter and many other movies because of the late Roger Ebert’s writings. I was sad to hear his passing the other week because he is a fantastic movie critic and the only one I’ve ever truly felt kinship with in terms of movie tastes. For movie lovers, I highly recommend his Great Movies book series which not only showcases films, but his insightful and thoughtful essays and reviews that include many things about art, history, people and more.
Read April 13th 2013. Rewatched movie April 20th 2013.