Movie review by Andrea Karen Hammer
Addressing the subject of infidelity ahead of its time, Brief Encounter (1945) is unsettling and mesmerizing at the same time. Even after several viewings, palpable frustration builds watching the tormented Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and expressive Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard).
With both married to others, the “friends” try to fight their feelings for each other during conversations over tea at the train station. The movie manages to make this central location dramatic, with steam swirling around their symbolic chases to catch nearly missed trains on opposite sides of the tracks.
At the top of films exploring this theme, Brief Encounter treats this setting as a type of character, as one astute viewer observed. When the star-crossed lovers need to part, Celia Johnson is often seen sitting forlornly in the station cafe. Despite the incessant chatter and activity surrounding the actress, she generally appears “zoned” in a faraway trance, listening and hoping for the return of Trevor Howard.
Dramatic Moments and Camera Techniques Build Intensity
Other dramatic moments include the pair’s intimate but furtive walks through the train underpass. The camera technique of closely focusing on Laura until she is forced back to reality also builds intensity.
While Laura and Alec teeter on wrongdoing, they are plagued by the actual statement of their “overwhelming” feelings for each other. Alec presses Laura into stating the fact, which he explains is undeniable even if it had remained unspoken.
After nearly slipping into transgression at a friend’s empty apartment, both are “saved” by his early return. Their deepening anguish, resulting from lies to family and friends, makes time together and apart equally painful.
Ben Mankiewicz’s Post-Film Commentary on Turner Classic Movies
During a post-film commentary on Turner Classic Movies, Ben Mankiewicz focused on the movie’s often overlooked power. He added that Director David Lean is generally recognized for his “big” films such as Dr. Zhivago. The Turner Classic Movies host also astutely remarked on the film’s success in accurately capturing this type of temptation–even for couples in good marriages.
In addition, Ben Mankiewicz recognized the performance of Cyril Raymond, who plays Laura’s understated husband Fred Jesson. In a powerful scene at the end of Brief Encounter, Fred alludes to his wife’s entanglement. Without any fuss, he quietly recognizes that she has been “far away” but is happy for her return.
Questions for Artsphoria’s Online Film Forum
How do you think Brief Encounter compares with contemporary movies exploring these themes? What are the similarities or differences in the ways that these issues are expressed or shown?
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