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Brief Encounter Movie Review

lean johnson woman quietly

Early in his long career, David Lean made several small, beautifully observed films about love, about death, about how people survive, and about how things end. My favorite David Lean film is Brief Encounter; I can watch it over and over again and never grow tired of it. The story is deceptively simple and we discover it in bits and pieces. We see a woman and a man talking quietly in a railway tea shop. Another woman joins them, chattering animatedly until the man leaves ever so quietly. The first woman nearly faints, but is soon en route home with her chattering companion. As far as real time goes after that, the woman sits quietly at home with her well-meaning husband and her own memories until the end of the film. But her memories, as Lean makes abundantly clear, have shattered her life and it is only her enormous capacity for traditional routines that saves her from death and despair. We learn why that ordinary little incident in the railway tea shop was the most heartrending time of her life. Lean and screenwriter Noel Coward chose just what to show with great care and the only choice that appears out of place, ironically, inspired Billy Wilder to make The Apartment in 1960. Because his canvas was so small in Brief Encounter, Lean embellished it further with sound: a haunting narration, a sweeping Rachmaninoff-based score, plus a batch of typically British catch phrases. The crisp acting by the supporting cast, and especially by its stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, rooted Brief Encounter in a definite time and place and rinsed away excessive sentiment. Yet despite its very Englishness, Brief Encounter does not date. It doesn't matter how the world has changed. These people in these circumstances made these choices, and even today, we might well imagine people making the very same choices all over again.

1946 86m/B GB Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Cyril Raymond, Joyce Carey, Everley Gregg, Margaret Barton, Dennis Harkin, Valentine Dyall, Marjorie Mars, Irene Handl; D: David Lean; W: Noel Coward; C: Robert Krasker. New York Film Critics Awards ‘46: Best Actress (Johnson); Nominations: Academy Awards ‘46: Best Actress (Johnson), Best Director (Lean), Best Screenplay. VHS

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