Saturday, 10 April 2010

Brief Encounter

Sixty Five years old and still a classic! This David Lean and Noel Coward joint project is a masterpiece of cinema. The concept is so simple, the acting as tight as the many closely framed shots, the sets and dramatic lighting reinforce the story.

As much as anything else, the film presents a wonderful social record of middle-class England in the 1940's. Although made in 1945 with WWII still raging, there is no direct mention of the war or it's impact - nothing is on ration and luxury goods seem widely available. Perhaps part of the film's task was to paint a propaganda picture of 'business as usual'.

Laura has a loving, if undemonstrative husband and two children. Every Thursday she takes the train to Milford to shop. She lunches and goes to the cinema, returning home in time to change for dinner with the children in bed and the meal prepared by the maid. Evening excitement is provided by listening to music on the wireless while she sews and her husband completes the Times crossword. A picture of living the middle-class dream? Affirming commentary for the middle-classes as it confirms their station in life, gratifying for the upper-class as it underlines their superiority and aspirational for the working class as they crave status and a comfortable life.

Much of the story unfolds in the Tea Room at Milford Junction station. One day, a passing Express Train whips up a dust cloud and Laura gets a lump of grit caught in her eye. She enters the Tea Room and asks for a glass of water to wash out her eye, but this does not succeed. Thankfully a fellow traveller who is Doctor is on hand to remove the offending grit. This proves to be first contact and over the following Thursdays, the two meet each week initially to share lunch and the cinema. The relationship deepens and they fall in love. This falling in love is plainly seen as something that is not a critique of their current marital relationships as the Doctor - Alec, is also married with two children.

What gives the film its overwhelming sense of power is the sensitive way in which the infatuation of new love is captured and portrayed. Throughout the film we see nothing of Alec's family or domestic situation. As Laura returns home each week she finds herself having to tell white lies to begin with and these soon become black lies as she draws friends in to provide an alibi should the need arise. Throughout the film, Laura and Alec wrestle with the pressing urgency of their love for each other as it fights their sense of obligation to their family and their sense of responsibility and propriety.

There are delightful scenes of two people enjoying each others company - particularly the boating scene where they act like teenagers. Once or twice the demonstration of love presses to go beyond a hurried kiss when no-one else is looking, almost making it when Alec has access to a colleagues flat, but the colleague returns unexpectedly early. Throughout the film it is Alec who is seemingly taking the lead, prepared to give words to the feelings he has and is sure that Laura shares. At each stage Laura responds but as she does the flaming arrows of love turn into spears of guilt which pierce her heart and bring to mind her husband and children.

As the relationship between Laura and Alec unfolds, so the flirting between the ticket collector and the pretentious lady who runs the Tea Shop, provides a vulgar and more coarse parallel. This seeks to more clearly underline the differences in social class.

Most of the story is told in flash-back as Laura sits traumatised at home with Rachmaninov booming out on the wireless. Her husband oblivious to the mental and emotional angst that Laura is processing. It is a simple story, amazingly well told and with superb acting. As social commentary it is priceless - my parents would have been in their late teens when this was made. As drama it is top class. As a portrayal of what it means to be human and in love with all the highs and lows that accompany that, it is possibly unequalled within the canon of cinema.

I purposely haven't told you the ending - on the off-chance that you haven't seen it. It's an amazing watch that would be completely spoiled by technicolour! It's available in a digitally remastered DVD edition in the UK for an amazing £3.99 at the moment. This should be in your DVD library - go get it.

I'll give it 8.5/10.

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