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Thursday, 16 August 2012

Classic Film Review: Brief Encounter (1945)

This British classic stars Celia Johnson as Laura Jesson, a happily married woman who finds her life changing dramatically after a chance meeting with Dr Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) at a railway station cafe. They meet accidentally again the next week and spend the afternoon together. After that, their meetings are planned as they tread dangerously close to a full-blown affair.

The body of the film is actually a flashback. We initially meet Laura and Alec at their last meeting, rudely interrupted by a friend of Laura's. We follow her home to husband Fred (Cyril Raymond) and she imagines telling him the story of the last few weeks - what follows is ostensibly directed at him. This style left me a little impatient to get into the meat of the story but it works. What also works is the subplot between station guard Albert (Stanley Holloway) and cafe manager Mrytle (Joyce Carey). It adds a little light relief to what is essentially a very painful film and Holloway fills the role with typical aplomb.

Brief Encounter certainly deserves the label of 'classic'. Although the dialogue ventures towards ridiculous at times, the two leads put in very solid performances. Naturally, we know more of Laura than of Alec, and at times I struggled with the belief that he felt as strongly as Laura did about their new relationship. However, Johnson and Howard worked well together and I particularly liked the boat scene where Alec takes an unfortunate dip. The film is coloured with the audience's knowledge of the finale, inserting sadness into almost every scene between Laura and Alec. It's a beautiful snapshot of the lives of two people but it is a very sad one.

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