Brief Encounter (1946)

Turbulent passion and middle-class restraint combine in uniquely English style when a married woman falls for a doctor she meets at a railway station.

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“A pleasure to watch... and deeply touching... a sort of vanity-sized Anna Karenina.”
James Agee, The Nation, 1946

Having graduated from editor to co-director on Noël Coward’s In Which We Serve (1942), David Lean’s first three solo works as director were all Coward adaptations, culminating in this skilful opening-out of the 1936 play Still Life.

Trapped in a suburban marriage, brittle housewife Laura (Celia Johnson) struggles with her passion for dashing doctor Alec (Trevor Howard). Brief Encounter is easy to mock, but its blend of the middle-class everyday, Robert Krasker’s atmospheric black and white cinematography and Rachmaninoff’s swooning 2nd Piano Concerto remains powerfully affecting. The film quivers with pent-up emotion in a way that must have been even more potent on its release in 1945 – just months after the end of World War II – than it is today.

Repressed romance featured again in The Remains of the Day (1993), while Richard Kwietnowski gave Brief Encounter a gay twist in his short Flames of Passion (1989).

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