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Thread: Brief Encounter

  1. #21
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    No doubt about it, David Lean and cast did a superb job in Brief Encounter. Consider it. Against conventional morality, the audience is silently cheering on a romance between Laura a married woman and Alec and is sorely disappointed when the two must part. Not just current audiences, but I'll bet British audiences also felt this way when the film was released years ago. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are excellent in the roles. But here's the rub which is strictly in my corner and not any flaw in the film or the cast. The characters do not speak to my heart. Is it their restraint that holds me back as well? I have pondered this over the years. Is it cultural? Yet, Torquil and Joan in I Know Where I'm Going speak very much to my heart.



    Best,



    Barbara
    Although this was filmed during the war (1945) could the restraint shown by Fred Jesson be explained by the fact that he appeared older than Alec (who being a doctor might have been exempt from the Services)

    and therefore had seen action and so was satisfied simply to be back home but still displayed the detached attitude of National Service. Am not sure on my thinking as age is difficult to gauge on the screen but just wanted put it forward. It is a number of years since I saw it though always assumed it was filmed in the early fifties.



    Freddy

  2. #22
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    No doubt about it, David Lean and cast did a superb job in Brief Encounter. Consider it. Against conventional morality, the audience is silently cheering on a romance between Laura a married woman and Alec and is sorely disappointed when the two must part. Not just current audiences, but I'll bet British audiences also felt this way when the film was released years ago. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are excellent in the roles. But here's the rub which is strictly in my corner and not any flaw in the film or the cast. The characters do not speak to my heart. Is it their restraint that holds me back as well? I have pondered this over the years. Is it cultural? Yet, Torquil and Joan in I Know Where I'm Going speak very much to my heart.



    Best,



    Barbara
    I haven't made much of a study of Noel Coward's stage-work, but I wonder if he ever depicted any sort of love-affair with much conviction. Like Cole Porter, another somewhat brittle, scintillatingly brilliant writer, who eschews sentiment in his work,was his attitude to love too "degage" (with acute accents over the "es"!) to really appeal to the heart?

  3. #23
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    That's a very perceptive post, Barbara - now I need to watch the film again with that in mind. As with any film, of course, it has to be judged in line with the mores and attitudes of its time



    rgds

    Rob
    Many thanks, Rob, for the kind words. As you so correctly say, placing some films in their time frames is important. Even a director with the keenest of Sci-Fic imagination can't truly place a film in the future as dead on as he can one set in his life times. This is what has kept me pondering Brief Encounter for years, always questioning my lack of engagement with it, wondering if it was in fact cultural and time factors at play. Or the opposite, can a Brit ever truly engage with a like film in quite the same heart's way that an American can? One can say that a good film stands on its own merits, all else aside, but I'm convinced there may be that extra "x" factor present in some films.



    Best,



    Barbara

  4. #24
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    I haven't made much of a study of Noel Coward's stage-work, but I wonder if he ever depicted any sort of love-affair with much conviction. Like Cole Porter, another somewhat brittle, scintillatingly brilliant writer, who eschews sentiment in his work,was his attitude to love too "degage" (with acute accents over the "es"!) to really appeal to the heart?
    That's a good point, Jeff. In "Private Lives" where the emotion takes the form of wonderful, fast repartee and just up Coward's alley as a writer of _words_ , and also in the physical slapstick knockdown-dragout scene between the two divorced yet still in love characters (perfectly played by Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery), Coward lets us join in that slapstick version of "emotion" between the two.



    But when it comes to real emotion, that restrained, deep passion which Johnson and Howard portray, Coward perhaps does stop at the edge of the emotional abyss. The inner emotion of the characters, and particularly Alec the doctor never bubbles up enough for me. We see inside Laura but not Alec. Is it that Coward drew back from having the male character pour his guts out inside for Laura?



    All it takes is one line and one look in Torquil's eyes, a man also restraining his deep passion for Joan, to engage me.



    Best,



    Barbara

  5. #25
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    Although this was filmed during the war (1945) could the restraint shown by Fred Jesson be explained by the fact that he appeared older than Alec (who being a doctor might have been exempt from the Services)

    and therefore had seen action and so was satisfied simply to be back home but still displayed the detached attitude of National Service. Am not sure on my thinking as age is difficult to gauge on the screen but just wanted put it forward. It is a number of years since I saw it though always assumed it was filmed in the early fifties.



    Freddy
    Hello, Freddy,



    Very glad you brought this up. I've always felt that Fred Jesson was a case of "still waters run deep" and although he kept quietly reading his paper, a whirlpool of deep emotions was going on inside him about Laura, expressed only with a few lines here and there, his eyes always focused on that paper. He knew that something was going on, something troubling her yet he was not one to discuss it or bring anything out in the open. You could tell he had a deep love for his wife but like many undemonstrative men of that decade or any decade, he had trouble expressing it verbally. Some of this restraint is cultural and timeframe. Men have been encouraged by society, by films, to think that strong men are silent men and only women show their emotion in relationships.



    Best,



    Barbara

  6. #26
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Hi Barbara,



    You put it far better than I did. I'll have to watch it again with fresh eyes 'cause I always thought Alec was a cad. Did they ever consumate the affair? Was Alec going to use his friends flat (an terrible abuse of friendship) to take the romance further?

    If he had succeeded how do you think it would have affected Laura?



    My sympathies do lie with her husband, though reading



    screenonline:Brief Encounter



    the story was set before WW2 so my national service idea is wrong. Annoyingly screenonline have video clips but these are only available for colleges and libraries, why I do not know.



    Lastly Barbara what is Sir Dirk Bogarde's film avatar from?



    best wishes

    Freddy

  7. #27
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    Hello, Freddy,



    Many thanks for the kind words. Alec and Laura were interrupted from any intentions by the friend's unexpected return to the flat. Alec was married, had two children and a wife he describes as small and delicate. But we don't really see him in torment about his family quite the way we do Laura since Coward/Lean chose to have Laura narrate which puts the focus dead on her inner point of view. Perhaps Coward wished to highlight how social conventions at the time create a Laura, who once into the affair seems like a trapped bird flapping its wings in vain against the cage of her boring marriage. But boring isn't enough motivation for me.



    I agree about the husband. He does seem like one of the silent heroes of the film. He's such a nice man, a good man. Is his only flaw that he is boring? Will his only reward be in heaven?



    Best,



    Barbara

  8. #28
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    Hi Barbara,

    ... Did they ever consumate the affair? Was Alec going to use his friends flat (an terrible abuse of friendship) to take the romance further?

    If he had succeeded how do you think it would have affected Laura?....

    best wishes

    Freddy
    What an interesting question. I have a gut reaction, but I'd like to mull over this one. Back later.



    Barbara

  9. #29
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Barbara, thanks for those detailed replies.



    In my mind if the affair was to be consumated it would be Alec who would make all the running, I just hope Laura would, as a married woman, rebuff him as I don't think she would have survived the guilt intact.



    regards



    Freddy

  10. #30
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    Barbara, thanks for those detailed replies.



    In my mind if the affair was to be consummated it would be Alec who would make all the running, I just hope Laura would, as a married woman, rebuff him as I don't think she would have survived the guilt intact.



    regards



    Freddy
    Hello, Freddy,



    I took a bit longer to get back. I watched "Brief Encounter" and had a really different reaction than what I'd remembered so I watched it again to make sure my feeling held. Here's the wierd thing: I came away this time (apologies to all who revere Laura and the film) being really impatient and a tad aggravated with Laura and also Alec. During the film Laura came off to me as a woman with too much time on her hands. I mean, what actually did she have to complain about in Fred? Yes, he did cross-word puzzles, but he would put them down and sit by her and very cordially listen. After all, they'd been married for a long time, had children who were approaching their early teens, so one doesn't expect him to romance her on a daily basis. She had a lovely home, didn't have to work, probably dabbled in charity work or whatever. Fred always seemed quite cheerful. Not a firecracker marriage but not abusive, dismal, or poor. I rather liked Fred, while a good deal of the time, I wanted to give Laura a swift kick to bring her back to reality. Instead of waiting for others to make her life exciting, her problem was not creating enough gratifying interests for herself: reading, writing, a cause she really was engrossed in, etc. Wasn't there a library in her village? Instead, she seemed to float in life, so of course she was ready for the fantasy of a romance that wasn't going anywhere. I suppose hers was a black and white kind of life that many married women lived then, but were Fred more negative or had he given Laura motivation, I might have understood her more.



    What do you think, Freddy? Everyone seems to love Laura and Alec, so I don't mind at all if I've totally misunderstood them.



    Best,



    Barbara

  11. #31
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    I'll have to watch it again with fresh eyes 'cause I always thought Alec was a cad. Did they ever consummate the affair? Was Alec going to use his friends flat (an terrible abuse of friendship) to take the romance further?

    If he had succeeded how do you think it would have affected Laura?



    My sympathies do lie with her husband, though reading



    screenonline:Brief Encounter

    Freddy
    Hello, Freddy,



    Here is a Guardian review you might find interesting with an x-rated exchange between Trevor Howard and David Lean on how to play Alec. I hestitated to post it; yet it provides an interesting contrast with Alec. It seems that if Trevor H had played it as Trevor H, we would have seen a real cad.



    Best,



    Barbara

    --------------------

    David Lean: Brief Encounter



    Derek Malcolm

    Thursday May 27, 1999

    The Guardian





    Tearjerkers are part and parcel of cinema, however much we refuse to accord them status. But when David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945) was previewed in Rochester, a coarse laugh from near the front of the audience enlivened the first love scene. And by the end of the film, the whole audience was rolling in the aisles. The cinema was right next to Chatham Dockyards, which might explain the furore. Later, the critics took so different a view that Rank advertised it in the industrial north as being good "in spite of the wild praise of the London critics".



    Many years later I interviewed Lean, who told me that the French were misguided in praising the film's innate understanding of the English middle classes, underlined by the fact that the lovers never went to bed with each other. "They might well have screwed like rabbits in real life," he said, "but this was real life as J Arthur Rank insisted on us seeing it." Even so, the reticence made for a classic film, very much more than a theatrical adaptation, with Celia Johnson as the married woman and Trevor Howard as the doctor who falls for her, giving superb and brilliantly judged performances.



    No matter how often the film is mocked and parodied, most notably by Mike Nichols and Elaine May, or sneered at by Pauline Kael ("There is not a breath of air in it") it remains extraordinarily moving. Only the comic relief provided by the attendant working classes ("Come off it, mother, be a pal!" "I'll give you mother, you saucy upstart!") now seems false.



    Even at the time, the film defied most of the rules of the box office, having no star names, an unhappy ending, unglamorous locations and lovers approaching middle age. The risk came off triumphantly, and Brief Encounter remains a piece of cinema remembered with affection by almost everybody who saw it.



    Of course, Lean made many more spectacular films: his next project, Great Expectations, is undoubtedly the greatest Dickens adaptation for the screen and shows a master editor as well as a magnificent film-maker at work. But Brief Encounter'ssimplicity always one of the most difficult things to achieve remains unsurpassed, like it or not.



    Lean did nothing to interrupt the main thrust of the story, in which a happily married woman with a nice husband and children falls for a man with whom there can be no future. Guilt would, of course, always obscure the scenario.



    Curiously Johnson, whose performance anchors the story, loathed making films and was terrified by the thought of holding this one together with a then-inexperienced Trevor Howard. Though in the end Howard gives a superb portrayal, he couldn't at the time understand one scene: when Laura, begged by Alec to come to the flat borrowed from a friend, eventually arrives and the two begin talking about the weather and damp wood on the fire.



    As Kevin Brownlow tells it in his book about Lean, Howard said: "David, will you please explain this to me. This is a fxxxxxg awful scene."



    Lean replied: "What's fxxxxxg awful about it?"



    "Well," said Howard, "they know jolly well this chap's borrowed a flat, they know exactly why she's coming back to him why doesn't he fxxk her? All this talk about the wood being damp and that sort of stuff."



    "Look, Trevor," said Lean. "Have you ever been out with a girl and you know that you're going to make love, whether it's her place or your place, and then when you get there and the door is shut and you're alone, everything's changed and there's a kind of embarrassment that you hadn't got when you were surrounded by people?"



    Howard: "Oh God, you are a funny chap." Lean: "Funny chap or not, that's the way we're doing the scene. Now come on."



    Whatever might or might not have happened, the scene in the flat is, of course, interrupted by the arrival of Valentine Dyall as the owner. Dyall was later to be famous as the lugubrious Man In Black. But at no point in his career did he do a more unfortunate thing than to disturb those lovers and their damp wood."

  12. #32
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    I see that "Brief Encounter" is being offered as part of an eight DVD boxset celebrating 70 years of top Rank films. £17.99 Delivered for BE and seven other wonderful Rank titles at Play.com



    Enjoy,



    Barbara

  13. #33
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Hello Barbara,



    Thanks for the replies of 4th, somehow I missed them completely so reading them for the first time

    this morning has been a great start to the day.



    What simply makes Brief Encounter such an interesting film is what it doesn't show or say, (unlike

    some of todays films) it leaves the viewer still asking questions and creating different scenarios

    sixty years after it was made. You're right, Fred doesn't give Laura any cause to stray, Laura does

    appear a bit pathetic and Alec takes advantage of that, he can leave at any time, having lost

    nothing but it would be Laura, a wife and mother, who would give the most and possibly lose all.

    Alec is a user who needs a good thump on the nose.



    I haven't seen it for a while so memory has to come into play.



    Both Fred and Laura appear to be from middle class families and the problems of post WW1 England,

    1920's unemployment and the Wall Street crash of '29 seems to have passed them by relatively

    unscathed. Fred has benefitted from a Grammer School education, possibly gone to University and has

    put all his passion and energy into work and family, he still sees himself able to climb the steps

    of the career ladder and when he comes home his wife, children and carpet slippers are there waiting

    for him. This is still the ideal a lot of people strive for.



    Laura has followed the path of a middle class daughter, has married well, has the children and the

    suburban house, but there it ends. She was given a good education but then duty, tradition and

    parental pressure come along and her path is narrowed. More importantly choices are made for her.

    She appears to have seldom been challenged, either physically or mentally. She has never had a

    chance to grow.( Think of how the miners wives grew and changed during the eighties miners strike,)



    In her mid thirties the frustration and discontent begin to surface. Laura does not seem to have

    ever made a decision for herself which involves herself, she has left that to her husband, and it

    isn't Alec who turns up first but fate. It is fate which brings Alec to her, Alec, the dominant

    partner who makes the decisions and pushes and connives to further the relationship. Then fate

    appears again. In the flat and the final goodbye decisions which concern her are decided by outside

    influences. Never once has she taken control.



    Below is a quote of Laura's (thanks IMDb) and it does seem to show some sadness and inner turmoil

    which the stiff upper lip finds hard to overcome. I don't know when it is said in the film but parts

    of it do seem to sum up her life with herself and both Alec and Fred.



    "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."



    As you say though Barbara, what Laura lacked was the inner strength, the passion and enthusiasm to

    do something for herself. Perhaps she was scared of what she was capable of. The dilema of life

    means having to make choices and as Laura seems to have done all of her life she declined. People

    knew their place and Laura's place was as a wife and mother, her duty was to others and not

    herself. A pity because if she had thought about herself I think her marriage would have been

    enriched as well. She was buttoned up in every sense of the word. If ever she had a grandaughter I

    wonder what she would have made of her Grandma?



    A hypothetical footnote I know but if WW2 was on the horizon as a middle aged mother Laura would

    still have been stuck at home, and I think she would have been envious of those women able to join

    the services, achieve something and change their lives.



    To quote Philip Larkin



    "Time torn off unused"



    regards



    Freddy

  14. #34
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    Hello Barbara,



    Thanks for the replies of 4th, somehow I missed them completely so reading them for the first time this morning has been a great start to the day.



    Laura...More importantly choices are made for her. She appears to have seldom been challenged, either physically or mentally. She has never had a chance to grow.( Think of how the miners wives grew and changed during the eighties miners strike,)



    In her mid thirties the frustration and discontent begin to surface. Laura does not seem to have ever made a decision for herself which involves herself, she has left that to her husband... The dilema of life means having to make choices and as Laura seems to have done all of her life she declined....She was buttoned up in every sense of the word.



    A hypothetical footnote I know but if WW2 was on the horizon as a middle aged mother Laura would still have been stuck at home, and I think she would have been envious of those women able to join the services, achieve something and change their lives.



    To quote Philip Larkin

    "Time torn off unused"



    regards



    Freddy
    Hello, Freddy,



    I very much enjoyed your insightful post. I think you've read Laura's psyche perfectly. Where I became irritated, you perceived the why of Laura.



    You are quite right. Decisions have been made for her; and when given a chance, she has, as you say, declined or hesitated. If she is challenged, made to grow, it will not come from within so much as it will be forced upon her or a situation presented to her, let's say, during an impending war. Millions of housewives found themselves in that position during the war, no longer being guided by their husbands now at war and left to make decisions, to up the family income by working in factories and to run a household in a way they had never done before. Doing that is empowering. Laura shows no indication that she has ever felt empowered in this way. More's the pity. The good thing is she has the time and the financial ease to learn and to grow. But she has to decide to do that on her own, by herself. She's not going to find that in Alec. If she does participate in Life, as you say, it will make her marriage stronger and give her a feeling of identity and strength as a base for the future.



    A wonderful post, Freddy, one that will have me thinking for quite a while. Thanks.



    Barbara

  15. #35
    Senior Member Country: UK Freddy's Avatar
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    Hello again Barbara



    Another splendid view of Laura.



    Co-incidently Cyril Raymond who played Fred was actually a fighter controller in the Battle of Britain and in my mind's eye I can picture him going home to his house near the airfield and there waiting for him would be Laura.



    Freddy

  16. #36
    Senior Member Country: United States theuofc's Avatar
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    ....Co-incidently Cyril Raymond who played Fred was actually a fighter controller in the Battle of Britain and in my mind's eye I can picture him going home to his house near the airfield and there waiting for him would be Laura.



    Freddy
    Thanks for that, Freddy! It's so fascinating to know a bit of who the actor was in real life. CR as a fighter controller in the Battle of Britain is a whole different dimension.



    Best,



    Barbara

  17. #37
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    Hi Barbara,



    My sympathies do lie with her husband, though reading



    screenonline:Brief Encounter



    the story was set before WW2 so my national service idea is wrong. Annoyingly screenonline have video clips but these are only available for colleges and libraries, why I do not know [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/thumbdown.gif[/img]



    best wishes

    Freddy
    Screenonline, in common with a few archives, has negotiated the copyright to allow for downloads at registered places of Education....annoyingly, the ITN/Gaumont News archive, 100 years worth of news footage, is for HE&FE Colleges only; not even libraries...

  18. #38
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    There's a brand new 35mm print of Brief Encounter available for UK showings - persuade you local cinema to book it!

    We showed an older copy to a packed house a couple of years ago and, once the audience had tittered a couple of times at the excents and the price of a scotch, they were gripped - tears at the end along with a sustained round of applause.

    Curious to think that both Brief Encounter and Blithe Spirit were made in the same year by the same team

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    Hello, Freddy,



    Very glad you brought this up. I've always felt that Fred Jesson was a case of "still waters run deep" and although he kept quietly reading his paper, a whirlpool of deep emotions was going on inside him about Laura, expressed only with a few lines here and there, his eyes always focused on that paper. He knew that something was going on, something troubling her yet he was not one to discuss it or bring anything out in the open. You could tell he had a deep love for his wife but like many undemonstrative men of that decade or any decade, he had trouble expressing it verbally. Some of this restraint is cultural and timeframe. Men have been encouraged by society, by films, to think that strong men are silent men and only women show their emotion in relationships.



    Best,



    Barbara
    I have watched this classic film on many occasions. I never read too much into the story, instead I prefer to consider it a wonderfully evocative example of a way of life in bye gone Britain and British film making at its very best. Whilst it is a brilliant piece of social history, sometimes its good to step aside from that and just enjoy the gentle drama, sensitivity and superb acting. In todays mixed up world, there is enough justification for turning the clock back to that era.



    clearview

  20. #40
    Senior Member Country: UK Brief Encounter's Avatar
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    Wonderful film. I was captivated the first time I saw it about a year ago. Then when my local arthouse cinema was showing it recently, I couldn't miss it. I cried at the end, of course.

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