Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard
Written by: Noel Coward, David Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allan, based on Noel Coward's play "Still Life"
Directed by: David Lean
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 86
Date: 26/11/1945
IMDB

Brief Encounter (1945)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Strangers When They Met

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Brief Encounter on DVD.

How extraordinary that such a simple, unassuming little film could work such powerful magic over so many people for so many generations.

David Lean's film contained no big stars, and its two actors were both middle-aged and not inordinately attractive. No sets were more ornate than a train platform café, and nothing in the writing came anywhere close to a great speech or a breakthrough moment.

It begins at a table in which a chatty lady shopper interrupts a man and a woman and sits down, uninvited, at their table. This happens every day. But when we see the same scene again at the end of the film's 86 minutes, it has the power to break hearts. It's one of the most devastating goodbyes in cinema history.

In flashback, we learn the story of a married woman (Celia Johnson) who shops every Thursday in town. There she meets a married doctor (Trevor Howard) and unassumingly has lunch with him. The two continue to meet and finally realize, and admit to each other, that they have fallen in love.

The affair lasts only a few weeks and director David Lean never shows anything more than a kiss, but the power of their connection is clearly felt through the glorious black-and-white cinematography, Noel Coward's simple dialogue, and 60 years of film history.

Lean went on to bigger films like Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia that contain their own power, but he never again re-captured the simple, intoxicating essence of this film, nor has anyone else.

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