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BRIEF ENCOUNTER (director/writer: David Lean; screenwriters: from the play “Still Life” by Noel Coward/Noel Coward/Anthony Havelock-Allan/Ronald Neame; cinematographer: Robert Krasker; editor: Jack Harris; music: Sergei Rachmaninov; cast: Celia Johnson (Laura Jesson), Trevor Howard (Dr. Alec Harvey), Stanley Holloway (Albert Godby), Joyce Carey (Myrtle Bagot), Cyril Raymond (Fred Jesson); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Noel Coward; Criterion Collection, The; 1945-UK)
“Stodgy and dated.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s adapted from the 1935 Noel Coward one-act play “Still Life.” It was the first major success of David Lean (“Lawrence of Arabia”/”Blithe Spirit”/”Oliver Twist”). The film’s problem, as seen today, is that it seems stodgy and dated. On second look from its release date, where it was well-received, the film seems superficially about sticking some holes in a supposedly happy marriage and is hardly worthy of all the accolades thrown its way through the years.

It’s a classic romantic drama, about repressed love, set in 1945 during WWII in and around the fictional Milford railway station and told in flashback from the viewpoint of a lovestruck woman. It tells of the brief romance between small-town housewife Laura Jessop (Celia Johnson) and the married Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) with children. They meet in the station’s waiting room, where the Doctor removes some dirt from her eye then leaves to catch his train. During her following shopping trips to Milford, Laura meets Alec again and a friendship begins to develop, soon the meetings become regular each Thursday afternoon. But it results only in a few snatched kisses and an agonizingly played out suggestive love affair that never goes further than a chaste waiting room fling with Rachmaninov piano music in the background.

Cyril Raymond plays the dumb and uninteresting but lovable unaware hubby of Celia. It received nominations for best director, actress and screenplay. Howard and Johnson serve the film well with their restrained performances, but I found the story too slight and hysterical.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”