Celebrating Great Films

Monday, January 26, 2009

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter#158 at time of writing.

I saw Kneehigh Theatre's adaptation of Brief Encounter at the Haymarket - it was the best piece of theatre I saw in 2008. In fact, I'd rank it in my top three or four favourite shows of all time. (In case you're curious, the others would be Masque of the Red Death, Avenue Q, and The Woman in Black.) They're still touring the show - see it while you can.

After the stage show, I felt like I'd seen the film - like I'd laughed and cried and fallen in love with it. So when I finally did see the film last week it felt warm and familiar, like sitting in front of an open fire at Christmas. The film didn't blow me away (like the play did), but it was quiet, and sad, and beautiful, and nostalgic.

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard's performances are restrained and realistic, far from the stagy melodrama I tend to expect from golden oldies. This film is like a precious museum exhibit, a glimpse into the mores of 1940s life. It seems almost comical now that it was banned by the Irish censorship board on the grounds that it portrayed an adulterer in a sympathetic light.

It’s thoroughly British, with occasional comic touches, and it’s so rooted in the 1940s that a film will never be made like it again. People were brasher then, accents were stronger, and social attitudes to affairs quite different. The period of the film gives it much of its charm.

Brief Encounter is based on a short play by Noel Coward, and it earned director David Lean his first Oscar nomination.

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