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Brief Encounter

August 11, 2010

183. Brief Encounter
Directed by David Lean
UK, 1945
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing


A chance meeting between two happily married strangers turns their lives around.

Essential Scene:

Laura and Alec have just spent their first full day together. Their attitudes towards one another are that of old friends. They develop in-jokes (which the audience has been let in on and laugh along with!) and generally have a gay old time. (This is 40’s England after all.)

They return to the train station for a cup of tea before their trains arrive, and Alec starts to talk of his profession. Slowly Laura’s expression begins to change from friendly attentiveness to a distant awe as she searches his face with her eyes. “You suddenly look much younger,” she declares, “almost like a little boy.” Is it Alec’s vulnerability she’s seeing for the first time? Is he so into discussing his work because he doesn’t get to share it with anyone else?

From that moment onwards, the atmosphere changes. Alec is still discussing preventative medicine but his voice changes into a soft, sensual tone. She responds to his lecture in the same manner. Their voices and expressions portray exactly what they both have suddenly realised, without the actual words being said.


Brief Encounter is a stunning film full of subtlety, realism and British restraint. A daring subject for a film of the era to tackle, it brings the idea of ‘adultery’ down to realistic levels: What if happily married people happen to meet someone who is perfect for them? Most definitely worth a watch. If nothing else you get a glimpse of Britain as it once was. You know, back when we had manners…


Reviewed by Ally
Second viewing

Essential Scene:

Laura and Alec’s last moments together are spoiled as gossipy Dolly Messiter sits with them and won’t stop talking. On the train ride home with Dolly, Laura is immersed in her own thoughts:

This can’t last. This misery can’t last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. There’ll come a time in the future when I shan’t mind about this anymore, when I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was. No, no, I don’t want that time to come ever. I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days.


My appreciation for Brief Encounter was greatly enhanced by a second viewing. Certain moments gain extra poignance when you know the whole story, like looking back on one’s own memories and finding new significance. It has similar emotional resonances to Casablanca, with great love made impossible by circumstance and social obligations. We’ll always have Milford…

Fascinating Fact:

The scene set in Alec’s friend’s flat directly inspired Billy Wilder to write The Apartment, which is the 366th film on The List and (cue fireworks) my favourite film.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jim Lawrence permalink
    August 19, 2010 1:41 pm

    I didn’t know about the inspiration for The Apartment – another perfect film, btw. I’ve only seen Brief Encounter once, and I was surprised by how absorbed I became. The unlikeliness of Howard and Johnson as romantic leads only serves to enforce the realism of the story. That realism is the source of its surprising power.

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