Restored 35mm print!
Brief Encounter was the jewel in Coward’s collaboration with his three “little darlings”—David Lean, cameraman Ronald Neame and producer Anthony Havelock-Allan. Today it continues to rank high on critics’ top 10 lists, with a recent Guardian poll rating it the best romantic film ever. (Casablanca came in second and Gone with the Wind third.) In adapting “Still Life,” one of the one-act plays in the Tonight at 8:30 cycle, Coward transforms the story from its original stage version, where it was an objective look at two characters with the audience as the proverbial fourth wall. In the film, the story is told entirely from the point of view of Laura (Oscar-nominee Celia Johnson). It is her voice that narrates the film, while Lean’s unobtrusive leaves one to wonder how much of this actually happened and how much is Laura’s romanticization. The identification with Johnson as Laura is complete and credible. Lean was less comfortable with the film’s comedy element—the flirtation between the station master and the hostess of the station buffet—but Coward held firm. The arc of Laura’s affair with Alec (Trevor Howard), the stranger she meets by chance in that station, would be too painful without some humor as contrast. Even so, when British audiences first saw the film, they greeted it with nervous laughter. It may have been too true to life for comfort, but they grew to accept and admire it. Some latter-day audiences invariably want the affair to be consummated. They miss the point completely