Director: David Lean
Starring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard
When you think David Lean, you think big, exciting, and sweeping. You think Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and Bridge on the River Kwai. But for me, Brief Encounter, so very different from Lean’s later work, is passionate and evocative enough to easily rank it among Lean’s best despite of – or perhaps because of – its much more modest focus.
We meet Laura Jesson (Johnson) when she seems to be having a difficult day. She is upset and anxious as she travels home from a train station. When she sits in front of her fireplace with her husband Fred, she starts narrating in her head the tale of her recent platonic love affair with Dr. Alec Harvey (Howard), which just ended that day. Through flashback, we go back to the beginning of Laura and Alec’s relationship as she recalls meeting him at the train station, and how they continued to meet once a week at or near the train station.
There are a great many things I feel very fondly of in Brief Encounter. I’ll start with the central relationship between Laura and Alec. Both Laura and Alec are married, and contentedly so, with children. Both Laura and Alec are middle-aged; perhaps still on the youngish side, but definitely no spring chickens. Both are leading lives of sedate routine. When they meet, it’s completely innocuous as he takes a piece of dirt out of her eye. When they meet again, though, they happily start to fall in with one another, they enjoy spending time with one another, and suddenly, they realize they are in love.