Brief Encounter, BFI’s 70th anniversary reissue. A British classic

Brief Encounter, BFI’s 70th anniversary reissue. A British classic

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Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson..... ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue
Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson….. ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue

The BFI’s 70th anniversary reissued classic Brief Encounter will be screening across the UK from 6th November, while A Kiss in the Tunnel will be available on the BFI Player.

Brief Encounter has been a firm favourite in my household for years, first on TV, then video, now DVD, but has always been seen on the small screen. So when the opportunity came up to see this 1940s classic, up close and personal, I packed my country basket, stepped onto a train and chugged my excited, marital way up to the big smoke – a fitting start I thought.

Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard and Celia Celia Johnson. ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue
Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard and Celia Celia Johnson. ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue

Meeting a friend, a fellow Encounter devotee, at the cinema doors we armed ourselves with coffee and croissants and settled into the red, sound absorbing seats prepared for our filmic experience. First, came a filmic short, A Kiss in the Tunnel by G A Smith. Shot in 1899 it’s a mini story of two passengers who, undercover of a tunnel, get increasingly amorous – when I say that I mean passion within the confines of Victorian morality – and steal a kiss.

Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson. ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue
Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson. ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue

Then it starts, the film proper. Big, smokey, crisp with close-ups close enough to feel the very fibres of their passion and loss. Every shot is a movie still. Noel Coward’s screenplay plus the sheer scale of Rachmaninoff’s piano score become a tumble of emotions, none of which are allowed to reach a climax thanks to the constraints of 1940s middle-class, middle England.

Punctuating Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard’s love story of two married people literally from the opposite of the railtracks, is the cheeky tale of the station master and the cafe owner – complete with saucy quips and bottom slapping.

Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson.... ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue
Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson…. ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue

These vignettes provide moments of light relief from the torment the two would-be lovers are experiencing. We witness the initial giddy happiness of their relationship, which they inevitably have to dissolve thanks to the confines of social and marital pressure of that time. All we can do as a contemporary audience is witness their dignified resignation and true British stiff-upper lipped-ness. To say we feel their pain is an understatement.

Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson..ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue
Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson..ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue

The film ends, tears are wiped away and we leave the cinema, wondering what would have happened if the story had been set in more recent times, which of course it has – once with Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep, and an earlier more bizarre pairing of Richard Burton and Sofia Loren. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that had the original Laura and Alec been allowed to be together, it probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway.

The timetable beckons, and I board the train again. Home back to familiarity, my child sleeping upstairs, or at least he would be if wasn’t at school; back to my husband and his kindly ways, and back to cooking on the Aga, or at least I would have been if it hadn’t been ditched in favour or a super-duper six-burner. Escapism and nostalgia are wonderful, wonderful things, most of the time.

Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson - ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue
Brief Encounter with Trevor Howard & Celia Celia Johnson – ITV studios 70th anniversary reissue

Cast:
Celia Johnson.……………………..…………..……………………Laura Jesson

Trevor Howard..…………..….…..…………..………………………………Alec Harvey

Stanley Holloway……………………………………………..………..…..…. Albert Godby

Joyce Carey………..…………………………………..………..……..……….Myrtle Bagot

Cyril Raymond………….………………..……………………………………Fred Jesson

Everley Gregg………….………………..………………………….…………. Dolly Messiter

Margaret Barton………….………………..……………..…………. Beryl Waters Stanley

Dennis Harkin………….………………..……………………………………. Stephen Lynn

Marjorie Mars………….………………..………………………………………. Mary Norton

Credits:
Directed by…….…………………………………………………………………. David Lean

Screenplay by………..…..……………………………………..……..………. Noël Coward

Cinematography by……………………………………………………….… Robert Krasker

Edited by…………….…….……………..………..…………………………….. Jack Harris

Sound Edited by…………….…….……………..………..…………………….. Harry Miller

Art Direction by…………….…….……………..………..…….…………….. L. P. Williams

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