Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter

Title: Brief Encounter


  • A cold, rainy Sunday afternoon
  • A quarter bottle of gin
  • A warm sofa
  • Some old-fashioned English biscuits or toffees
  • A total absence of others
  • 90 minutes of quality time
  • A DVD of Noel Coward’s ‘Brief Encounter’
  • A tissue or two

David Lean may have been the director of ‘Brief Encounter’ but Noel Coward was the writer and the producer and, if you want to know Coward, you have to see his last film acting role: that of criminal mastermind Mr Bridger in ‘The Italian Job’. He is the epitome of Britishness and this film is about Britishness as much as it is about love.

We all love grand passions, and the idea of The One Great Love That Can Never Be is the stuff of the great tragic romances like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Casablanca’. But the genius of this film is that the Great Love is not set against a grand backdrop, it is set in quintessential English suburbia and the star-crossed lovers are an ordinary middle-class housewife, played by Celia Johnson, and a thoroughly decent doctor, played by Trevor Howard…

It’s kitsch, it’s slow-moving, it’s old-fashioned, it’s black and white, there are no sudden plot twists and it’s so, so British. No voices get raised, there are no confrontations, there is almost no physical contact. It’s as if everything is held struggling within, trapped inside the ice of Celia Johnson’s British reserve and her sense of housewifely honour. They meet, three, maybe four, times but it’s a love that can’t ever be allowed and, when it tries to break out, it is only destined to go sadly, clumsily wrong…

Then, even at the very end, when they are both separating for ever and all they have is a final five minutes in a steamy train station, yes even then the gods cheat them and suddenly he is gone and there is only the sound of trains as Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto pounds in the darkness of an English winter evening…

And then she is back home again, sitting in front of the fire, staring into nowhere, lost in internal agony and her kind, honourable, pipe-smoking husband crosses the room towards her and puts his arm gently around her shoulder and says, “You’ve been a long, long way away. Thank you for coming back to me.”

That’s when you need the tissue…