A respectable, happily married doctor (Trevor Howard) comes to the aid of an equally upstanding housewife (Celia Johnson) when a passing train blows cinder into her eye. Thus begins a tentative romance, conducted in the tearooms and railway cafe of a small English town. David Lean's classic study of a peculiarly British affair, played with straight bat and stiff-upper lip, features Rachmaninov on the soundtrack, and garnered Oscar nominations for director, screenplay and Celia Johnson. Also included is the 20-minute documentary 'A Profile of Brief Encounter'.
Expanded from a one-act stage play by Noel Coward, Brief Encounter is without doubt one of the true masterpieces of British film history. The story seems slight--a respectable suburban housewife has a chance meeting with a handsome married doctor, their friendship becomes romance, but they feel the pressures of convention pulling their relationship apart--but the writing, acting and direction are sublime, turning what might have been just another melodrama into a memorable and heartbreaking story of impossible love. David Lean went on to make much bigger films than this, but few of those epics packed the emotional punch of this picture, set in a mundane world of railway stations, semi-detached houses and inexpensive cafes. Trevor Howard is perfectly cast as Alec, the doctor, but the film belongs above all to Celia Johnson, as the heroine Laura. It's easy to mock her clipped ultra-English accent, but she gives one of the greatest screen performances imaginable, brilliantly evoking how an ordinary life can be turned upside down by unexpected passion. Throw in the superb use of Rachmaninov's swooning Second Piano Concerto, shrewd supporting acting from Cyril Raymond, Joyce Carey and Everley Gregg, and some of the best black-and-white photography of its era, and the result is irresistible. Anyone who isn't besotted with Brief Encounter has either never been in love, or doesn't deserve to be. --Andy Medhurst
Brief Encounter tells the poignant tale of ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary power of love. Based on a Noel Coward play, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.