Monday, July 18, 2016

Brief Encounter

By Philip Price 
August 28, 2015
03:01 PM
There is something about hearing Celia Johnson's internal monologue throughout all this that feels incredibly real, incredibly human, and incredibly unique to cinema. And then her acting – and those huge, emotion-filled eyes. There is no other film that has captured what this kind of experience is like, in all the pain, bittersweetness, impossibility and sense of fleeting chances; how the dreariness of a life can be flooded with meaning and color. Life is short; but don't have an affair, just watch Brief Encounter.

Brief Encounter

  • “Riskiest Thing I Ever Did”: Notes on Brief Encounter

    By Kevin Brownlow

    The mysterious letter was signed “Joe.” David Lean’s lawyer had sent me a batch of old correspondence. Struggling with a biography of Lean, I was desperate for any leads, and this one seemed worth following up. But how does one start looking for a bloke called Joe? I wrote to the address on the letter. A few days later came a reply. “Joe” Kirby was not a bloke. She had been one of David’s girlfriends. Sadly, Josephine Kirby had died in 1979. Her son, John Clay, the writer, suggested I pay him a visit. He explained that she had never mentioned David Lean to either of her two sons but that she had talked a great deal about him to his wife, Catrine.
    “She always said, ‘He was the love of my life, and I never got over it,’” Catrine recounted. Jo Kirby came from Cheshire, and in 1935 David took her on a romantic trip to Italy. The affair was short-lived. Later that year, he ended the relationship. She was on a train, on her way back to Cheshire with a new fiancé, but couldn’t bear the thought of life without David. She got off the train and caught the next one to London.
    This scene, so similar to the one played by Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter (1945), evokes the powerful link between railways and love affairs. One needs only to hear the slamming of doors and the guard’s whistle to feel the heartache of parting. Dramatically, Jo’s impulsiveness should have brought about a reconciliation, but it didn’t. “She knew in her heart of hearts that it would never have worked,” said Catrine. “He was just too interested in other women, and she had the feeling that he just never would be faithful. She was dead right about him, but I don’t think being dead right makes much difference to how you feel.”
    Handsome and charismatic, Lean was irresistibly attractive to women. He could have made film after film about successful seduction. How ironic it is that one of his finest and best-loved pictures should be about a repressed love affair. “Riskiest thing I ever did,” he said.
    He was afraid the film would turn out to be little more than a women’s magazine trifle. “There were no big stars,” he wrote. “The main love story had an unhappy ending. The film was played in unglamorous surroundings. And the three leading characters were approaching middle age. A few years ago, that would have been a recipe for box-office disaster.” In those days, glamour and escapism had been what the cinema was for. But, with the war now ending, these were different times.
  • Lean would never feel confident with love stories. And at this point in his career, he was still regarded in the industry as a technician, albeit of the front rank; nothing suggested he would be an artist—a Cukor or Wyler of the future. He spoke of himself as “a frightened rabbit,” and directing films scared the life out of him. He had started as an editor and was being propelled into directing by Noël Coward (and the urging of his wife, Kay Walsh). They’d made three films together before this one, In Which We Serve (1942), This Happy Breed (1944), and Blithe Spirit (1945), with Coward as overall artistic supervisor. How much of the success of This Happy Breed and Blithe Spirit had been due to the Coward plays? Lean would never forget the harsh words his mentor had used about Blithe Spirit—making him want to break away—so he was hardly in a state of euphoria at the prospect of another project with Coward. But to his intense surprise, he enjoyed making Brief Encounter, and even found himself in tears shooting the emotional moments.
    The man who wrote it with such insight as a play was homosexual, and there is an unfounded rumor that it was intended to be performed by men. Perhaps its being so far from these artists’ experiences led them to use their powers of observation in an unusually formidable way. The background suited Lean’s love of railways—a Lean film is incomplete without a locomotive—and the opening scene, with the Royal Scot roaring through Carnforth station, filling the screen with backlit smoke and bringing up both the main titles and the Rachmaninoff, is a heart-stopping moment.Robert Krasker, who had been a camera operator for Alexander Korda on The Thief of Bagdad(1940) and was fairly new as a director of photography, lights the picture in the standard studio style of the time. But some of the night exteriors suggest an admiration for the silent-era expressionism of Germany, where Krasker studied optics, and anticipate The Third Man(1949), for which he would win an Academy Award. Working with such a versatile artist encouraged Lean to experiment; watch the moments when the camera tracks into Johnson and the background fades to black, against all the rules of reality. And when the express screams through the station, triggering her moment of madness, the camera not only tracks into her but tilts (à la The Third Man).
    Johnson speaks with that cut-glass accent so familiar before the war but now almost vanished, which could easily cause laughter today. Fortunately, she is such a skillful actress that her character—Coward called her “suburban”—comes across as a convincing and very touching woman. Coward was obsessed with class; the dialogue in the refreshment room between the “refained” Joyce Carey and the good old cockney Stanley Holloway is entertaining but forced, whereas the exchanges between the couple all ring true. Lean disliked the comedy scenes, but as producer Anthony Havelock-Allan pointed out, Coward was a skillful theater writer who knew that the story would beLean and his Cineguild colleagues Havelock-Allan and Ronald Neame—who worked on all the Lean-Coward projects—had wanted to do a historical romance about Mary, Queen of Scots, but were laughed out of it by Coward (“What do you know about costumes?”). Lean read Coward’s short play Still Life and summoned up the nerve to declare that it wasn’t very good. “This woman arrives at a railway station and gets some soot in her eye, meets this man, and they arrange to meet next Thursday, and it goes on, and in the end they part. It’s got no surprises in it. You’re not saying to the audience, ‘Watch carefully. This is interesting.’” Lean suggested starting like this: “A busy waiting room. There are two people sitting at a table, talking, a man and a woman. Through the door comes another woman, who sits down at the table. As she sits, talking and talking, you realize there’s something not quite right going on, and a train comes into the station. ‘That’s your train,’ says the woman. ‘Yes,’ says the man, ‘I must go. Good-bye.’ He shakes hands with the other woman, and then you go back and explain that this is the last time they see each other. They were never going to see each other again. And you play once more the first scene in the picture—it made no sense to you at all, and you didn’t hear half the dialogue—and that’s the end of the film, with an added piece, perhaps, with the husband.
    “[Coward] said, ‘Say no more,’ and off he went, for about four days, and he came back with what was essentially Brief Encounter.
  •  intolerably sad without them.
  • Havelock-Allan, however, insisted that Coward wrote none of the script. “The script was written by David and myself and Ronnie. You realize that Still Life was a half-hour playlet which takes place entirely in the waiting room of a station. We had to invent scenes that were not there. And there were lots of places where there was no dialogue. We said, ‘Could they go for a row in the lake? Could they go to the cinema?’ Noël said, ‘Only if they go to a bad film.’”
    Neame recounted how the Cineguild trio had learned to write like Coward. “We all knew pretty well the way Noël wrote, and so we would fill in scenes. We would put stand-in dialogue until we saw Noël, and I remember on one occasion he said, ‘Which of my little darlings wrote this brilliant Coward dialogue?’”
    With the world in such turmoil, Brief Encounter must have seemed a very frail subject on which to expend so many valuable resources. The Blitz was over, but in 1944 a second Blitz began when Hitler launched his secret weapon—the V-1 rocket-launched bomb. The Brief Encounter company were regarded as official evacuees. They had originally been assigned a London railway station for the main location, but Carnforth was safer, being so much farther north, even though large quantities of munitions were regularly routed through it.
    Modern audiences are often puzzled by the fact that this famous wartime film shows no sign of the war—lights are blazing, trains run on time, chocolate is purchased without coupons. ButStill Life was written in 1935, and the film is set in the late thirties. The reason Lean put up with Johnson’s outlandish peaked hat was to signal both the date and the fact that she was meant to be provincial.
  • ]The winter of 1944–45 was bitterly cold. When they weren’t needed, the actors huddled in the waiting room, where the stationmaster maintained a roaring fire. “You’d think there could be nothing more dreary than spending ten hours on a railway station platform every night,” wrote Johnson to her husband, “but we do the whole thing in the acme of luxury and sit drinking occasional brandies and rushing out now and then to see the expresses roaring through.” However, she confessed to appalling nerves over the responsibility of “carrying” the film. “I am scared stiff of the film and get first-night indijaggers before every shot, but perhaps I’ll get over that. You need to be a star of the silent screen because there’s such a lot of stuff with commentary over it. It’s terribly difficult to do.”
    Celia Johnson was among Lean’s favorite actors. He also admired Trevor Howard, whose first major part this was. But he was startled when Howard claimed not to understand the scene in the borrowed flat, with its talk of the weather and the fact that the couple didn’t go to bed. Howard said, “They know jolly well this chap’s borrowed a flat, they know exactly why she’s coming back to him—why doesn’t he fuck her? All this talk about the wood being damp and that sort of stuff.” Hadn’t he ever been with a girl, convinced they would be making love, asked Lean, and once the door’s shut, a kind of embarrassment takes over? “Oh, God,” said Howard. “You are a funny chap.”
  • It is strange that the film was not threatened with censorship, not even in America, where the Legion of Decency might well have reacted to the adulterous affair and the suggestion of suicide, even though neither is consummated. But that was far from Lean’s mind when the film had its first preview. Rochester was a foolhardy place to choose because it was right next to Chatham Dockyard, and the cinema was packed with sailors. “At the first love scene,” said Lean, “one woman down the front started to laugh—I’ll never forget it. At the second love scene, it got worse. And then the audience caught on and waited for her to laugh, and it ended in an absolute shambles. They were rolling in the aisles. I remember going back to the hotel and lying in bed, almost in tears, thinking, How can I get into the laboratory and burn the negative? I was so ashamed of it.”
    But after Rochester, the film opened more widely, and a miracle happened. The public embraced it, people went to see it again and again, and it broke box-office records. In New York, it ran for eight months, and Johnson was not only voted best actress by the New York critics, she was nominated for an Oscar. David became the first director of a British film since Korda to be nominated, and he, Neame, and Havelock-Allan were also nominated for the screenplay.
    Thus began the career of a classic, one of the most celebrated and fondly remembered of all British films. Brief Encounter had been transformed from a clever but minor play into a fine, cinematic film. Lean had acquired so much self-confidence that he was keen to break away from Coward, much as he loved and admired him.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Brief Encounter (play))

Product Details

Railways on the Screen Hardcover – April 29, 1993

  • Hardcover: 217 pages
  • Publisher: Ian Allan Publishing; First Edition edition (April 29, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0711020590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0711020597
For other uses, see Brief Encounter (disambiguation).
Brief Encounter
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Lean
Produced byNoël Coward
Anthony Havelock-Allan
Ronald Neame
Written byAnthony Havelock-Allan
David Lean
Ronald Neame
Based onStill Life
1936 play
by Noël Coward
StarringCelia Johnson
Trevor Howard
Stanley Holloway
Joyce Carey
Cyril Raymond
Everley Gregg
Margaret Barton
Music bySergei Rachmaninoff
CinematographyRobert Krasker
Edited byJack Harris
Distributed byEagle-Lion Distributors(UK) Universal Pictures(US)
Release dates
26 November 1945 (UK)
Running time
86 minutes
Budget$1 million[1]
Brief Encounter is a 1945 British romantic drama film directed by David Leanabout British suburban life, centring on Laura, a married woman with children, whose conventional life becomes increasingly complicated because of a chance meeting at a railway station with a stranger, Alec. They inadvertently but quickly progress to an emotional love affair, which brings about unexpected consequences.
The film stars Celia JohnsonTrevor HowardStanley Holloway and Joyce Carey. The screenplay is by Noël Coward, based on his 1936 one-act playStill Life. The soundtrack prominently features the Piano Concerto No. 2 bySergei Rachmaninoff, played by Eileen Joyce.


  • 1Plot
  • 2Cast
  • 3Adaptation of Still Life
  • 4Production notes
  • 5Music
  • 6Reception
  • 7Adaptations of the film
  • 8See also
  • 9Notes
  • 10References
  • 11External links


    In the latter months of 1938, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), a respectable middle-class British woman in an affectionate but rather dull marriage, tells her story while sitting at home with her husband, imagining that she is confessing her affair to him.
    Laura, like many women of her class at that time, goes to a nearby town every Thursday for shopping and to the cinema for a matinée. Returning from one such excursion to Milford, while waiting in the railway station's tea shop, she is helped by another passenger, who solicitously removes a piece of grit from her eye. The man is Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), an idealistic doctor who also works one day a week as a consultant at the local hospital. Both are in their late thirties or early forties, married and with children.
    Enjoying each other's company, the two arrange to meet again. They are soon troubled to find their innocent and casual relationship quickly developing into something deeper.
    For a while, they meet openly, until they run into friends of Laura and the perceived need to lie arises. The second lie comes easier. They eventually go to a flat belonging to Stephen (Valentine Dyall), a friend of Alec's and a fellow doctor, but are interrupted by Stephen's unexpected and judgmental return. Laura, humiliated and ashamed, runs down the back stairs and into the streets. She walks for hours, sits on a bench and smokes, and is confronted by a police officer, with the implication that she could be perceived as a "streetwalker."
    The rather sordid turn of events brings home to the couple that both an affair and a future together are impossible. Realizing the danger and not wishing to hurt their families, they agree to part. Alec has been offered a job in Johannesburg, South Africa, where his brother lives.
    Their final meeting occurs in the railway station refreshment room, now seen for a second time with the poignant perspective of their story. As they await a heart-rending final parting, Dolly Messiter (Everley Gregg), a talkative acquaintance of Laura, invites herself to join them and begins chattering away, oblivious to the couple's inner misery.As they realize that they have been robbed of the chance for a final goodbye, Alec's train arrives. With Dolly still chattering, Alec departs with a last look at Laura but without the passionate farewell for which they both long. After shaking Messiter's hand, he discreetly squeezes Laura on the shoulder and leaves. Laura waits for a moment, anxiously hoping that Alec will walk back into the refreshment room, but he does not. As the train is heard pulling away, Laura is galvanized by emotion and, hearing an approaching express train, suddenly dashes out to the platform. The lights of the train flash across her face as she conquers a suicidal impulse. She then returns home to her family.Laura's kind and patient husband, Fred (Cyril Raymond), suddenly shows not only that he has noticed her distance in the past few weeks but that he has perhaps even guessed the reason. He thanks her for coming back to him. She cries in his embrace.


    Adaptation of Still Life[edit]The film is based on Noël Coward's one-act play Still Life (1936), one of ten short plays in the cycle Tonight at 8:30, designed for Gertrude Lawrence and Coward himself, and to be performed in various combinations as triple bills. All scenes in Still Life are set in the refreshment room of a railway station (the fictional Milford Junction).

    As is common in films based on stage plays, the film depicts places only referred to in the play: Dr. Lynn's flat, Laura's home, a cinema, a restaurant and a branch of Boots the Chemist. In addition, a number of scenes have been added which are not in the play: a scene on a lake in a rowing boat where Dr. Harvey gets his feet wet; Laura wandering alone in the dark, sitting down on a park bench, smoking in public and being confronted by a police officer; and a drive in the country in a borrowed car.
    Some scenes are made less ambiguous and more dramatic in the film. The scene in which the two lovers are about to commit adultery is toned down: in the play it is left for the audience to decide whether they actually consummate their relationship; in the film it is intimated that they do not. In the film, Laura has only just arrived at Dr. Lynn's flat when the owner returns and is immediately led out by Dr. Harvey via the kitchen service door. Later, when Laura seems to want to throw herself in front of an express train, the film makes the intention clearer by means of voice-over narration. Also, in the play, the characters at the Milford station—Mrs. Baggot, Mr. Godby, Beryl, and Stanley—are very much aware of the growing relationship between Laura and Alec and sometimes mention it in an offhand manner, whereas in the film, they barely take any notice of them or what they are doing, either showing them respect for their privacy or just being oblivious. The final scene of the film showing Laura embracing her husband after he shows that he has noticed her distance in the past few weeks and perhaps even guessed the reason is not in the original Coward play.
    There are two editions of Coward's original screenplay for the film adaptation, both listed in the bibliography.
    In her book Noël Coward (1987), Frances Gray says that Brief Encounter is, after the major comedies, the one work of Coward that almost everybody knows and has probably seen; it has featured frequently on television and its viewing figures are invariably high.
    "Its story is that of an unconsummated affair between two married people [....] Coward is keeping his lovers in check because he cannot handle the energies of a less inhibited love in a setting shorn of the wit and exotic flavour of his best comedies [....] To look at the script, shorn of David Lean's beautiful camera work, deprived of an audience who would automatically approve of the final sacrifice, is to find oneself asking awkward questions" (p. 64–67).
     Gray acknowledges a common criticism of the play: why do the characters not consummate the affair? Gray argues that their problem is class consciousness: the working classes can act in a vulgar way, and the upper class can be silly; but the middle class is, or at least considers itself, the moral backbone of society – a notion whose validity Coward did not really want to question or jeopardise, as the middle classes were Coward's principal audience.
    However, Laura in her narration stresses that what holds her back is her horror at the thought of betraying her husband and her settled moral values, tempted though she is by the force of a love affair. Indeed, it is this very tension which has made the film such an enduring favourite.
    The values which Laura precariously, but ultimately successfully, clings to were widely shared and respected (if not always observed) at the time of the film's original setting (the status of a divorced woman, for example, remained sufficiently scandalous in the UK to cause Edward VIII to abdicate in 1936). Updating the story may have left those values behind and with them vanished the credibility of the plot, which may be why the 1974 remake could not compete.[6]
    The film is widely admired for the beauty of its black-and-white photography and the atmosphere created by the steam-age railway setting, both of which were particular to the original David Lean version.Handford, Peter (1980). Sounds of Railways. David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-7631-4.7]The film was a great success in the UK and such a hit in the US that Celia Johnson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.

    The film was released amid the social and cultural context of the Second World War when 'brief encounters' were thought to be commonplace and women had far greater sexual and economic freedom than previously. In British National Cinema(1997), Sarah Street argues that "Brief Encounter thus articulated a range of feelings about infidelity which invited easy identification, whether it involved one's husband, lover, children or country" (p. 55). In this context, feminist critics read the film as an attempt at stabilising relationships to return to the status quo.[citation needed] Meanwhile, in his 1993 BFI book on the film, Richard Dyer notes that owing to the rise of homosexual law reform, gay men also viewed the plight of the characters as comparable to their own social constraint in the formation and maintenance of relationships. Sean O'Connor considers the film to be an "allegorical representation of forbidden love" informed by Noël Coward's experiences as a closeted homosexual.[8]
    The British play and film The History Boys features two of the main characters reciting a passage of the film. (The scene portrayed, with Posner playing Celia Johnson and Scripps as Cyril Raymond, is in the closing minutes of the film where Laura begins, "I really meant to do it.")
    Kathryn Altman, wife of director Robert Altman said, "One day, years and years ago, just after the war, [Altman] had nothing to do and he went to a theater in the middle of the afternoon to see a movie. Not a Hollywood movie: a British movie. He said the main character was not glamorous, not a babe. And at first he wondered why he was even watching it. But twenty minutes later he was in tears, and had fallen in love with her. And it made him feel that it wasn't just a movie." The film wasBrief Encounter[9]

    Adaptations of the film[edit]


    Jenny Seagrove and Nigel Havers rehearsing
    Brief Encounter was adapted as a radio play on 20 November 1946 episode ofAcademy Award Theater, starring Greer Garson.[11] It was presented three times onThe Screen Guild Theater, first on 12 May 1947 episode with Herbert Marshall andLilli Palmer, again on 12 January 1948 with Herbert Marshall and Irene Dunne and finally on 11 January 1951 with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. It was also adapted to Lux Radio Theater on 29 November 1948 episode with Van Heflin and Greer Garson and on 14 May 1951 episode with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Basehart.

    See also[edit]


    1. Jump up^ "US Life or Death to Brit Pix", Variety 25 Dec 1946 p 9
    2. Jump up^ "BBC - Cumbria - Cumbria 0n Film - Brief Encounter" Retrieved 10 March 2016.
    3. Jump up^ Whitaker, Brian (comp.) (1990). Notes & Queries. Fourth Estate. ISBN 1-872180-22-1.
    4. Jump up^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 2003 p209
    5. Jump up^ "Brief Encounter" 26 November 1945. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
    6. Jump up^ Handford, Peter (1980). Sounds of Railways. David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-7631-4.
    7. Jump up^ Huntley, John (1993). Railways on the Screen. Ian Allan.ISBN 0-7110-2059-0.
    8. Jump up^ O'Connor, p. 157
    9. Jump up^ A quote from the final scene in the 2014 documentaryAltman.
    10. Jump up^ "TV - 'Brief Encounter' - Burton and Miss Loren Portray Lovers on Hallmark Film at 8 - 30 on NBC - Article -" 12 November 1974. Retrieved 10 March 2016.
    11. Jump up^ "Greer Garson Stars in "Brief Encounter" On Academy Award--WHP". Harrisburg Telegraph. November 16, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved September 14, 2015 – open access publication - free to read

    1. Jump up^ Billington, Michael (18 February 2008). "Theatre Review: Brief Encounter"The Guardian (London). Retrieved26 April 2010.
    2. Jump up^ Cheal, David (8 February 2008). "Brief Encounter: 'I want people to laugh and cry. That's our job'"The Daily Telegraph (London).
    3. Jump up^ Kneehigh Theatre tour dates Archived 22 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
    4. Jump up^ Noel Coward's Brief Encounter to Open at Studio 54 in September Retrieved 12 September 2010.
    5. Jump up^ Jones, Kenneth. "Broadway's 'Brief Encounter', a Romance With Theatrical Lift, Ends Jan. 2", 2 January 2011
    6. Jump up^ Kneehigh Tour Dates [1] Retrieved October 2013.
    7. Jump up^ Houston Grand Opera performance page Archived 30 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.