Lean’s Brief Encounter, based on Noël
Coward’s one-act play Still Life and
adapted for the screen by Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, and Ronald Neame,
represents one of the most admired and poignant love stories ever put on
celluloid. The picture frequently lands on various “best” lists and is often
called one of the great movie romances. It is also a decidedly British picture,
one that deftly captures the zeitgeist of
immediate post-war England with a focus on middle-class values and morality of
the time. It appeared in British cinemas in late 1945 and was released in the
U.S. in 1946; thus, it was nominated for the ‘46 Academy Awards for Best
Director, Best Actress (Celia Johnson), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Criterion Collection released the film on DVD years ago, both alone and as part
of the box set collection, David Lean
Directs Noël Coward (the collection was
also released on Blu-ray); however, until now the title was not available as a
separate Blu-ray disk. All of the supplements from the box set edition have
been ported over to this single disk version.
Brief Encounter is the story of Laura
(wonderfully played by Johnson), a respectable, happily-married woman who
happens to meet a respectable, happily-married doctor named Alec (Trevor
Howard) one day in the train station. There is a mutual attraction, and they
begin to see each other on day outings over the next few weeks. They fall in
love, of course, and the next big question is... will they or won’t they?
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2
underscoring the affair, this is lush, romantic stuff.
was Lean’s fourth collaboration with Coward (their first picture, In Which We Serve,was co-directed by both) and it’s the piece that exhibited Lean’s
growing artistry as a filmmaker. For a man who went on to make big budget epics
like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, Brief Encounter is strikingly small and intimate, and that’s the
reason it has such charm and resonance. The two leads are superb. Johnson (whom
James Bond fans may know was, in real life, the sister-in-law of Ian Fleming)
displays such controlled emotion (in a manner that is distinctly British), that
it becomes heartbreaking to watch. Howard’s conflict between desire and
responsibility is palpable. Their rapport is very real and totally believable,
even seventy-one years later.
Blu-ray disk contains a high-definition digital transfer of the BFI National
Archive’s 2008 restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There is
an audio commentary from 2000 by film historian Bruce Eder.
supplements include an insightful interview from 2012 with Noël
Coward scholar Barry Day; a terrific short documentary on the making of the
film; a nearly-hour-long 1971 television documentary on Lean’s career up to
that point; and the theatrical trailer. An essay by historian Kevin Brownlow
appears in the booklet.
Brief Encounter is the perfect date
movie. Watch it tonight with someone you love.