“Could you really say goodbye? Never see me again?” Dr. Alec Harvey asks Laura Jesson. “Yes, if you’d help me,” she replies. “I love you, Laura. I shall always love you until the end of my life.”
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’m mostly unfamiliar with the works of Noel Coward. My knowledge of the author can be summed up like this: Noel Coward is an author whose had a few of his works adapted for the big screen and David Lean was the director who had the privilege of bringing some of those works to life. I had the great opportunity to see one of those works recently at the Film Forum in New York City in a brand new DCP restoration funded by the David Lean Foundation. It is because of 1945’s Brief Encounter that I vow to familiarize myself with the works of Noel Coward and all film adaptations of those works.
Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard star as Laura Jesson and Dr. Alec Harvey, two happily married strangers who meet by chance one day at a train station cafe. Laura gets some grit in her eye, and he, being a doctor, offers to examine her eye. He removes the grit, and then they part ways. This chance meeting sparks a connection between them, and over the course of time they continually bump into each other. They discuss their spouses and children during lunch and go to the local cinema to catch the pictures. The more time they spend together, the more they realize they’re not as happily married as they had believed. Before they know it, they’ve accidentally fallen in love, a love they know that cannot last and can become dangerous for them (because of British society at the time) the longer they pursue it.
Johnson and Howard deliver strong performances in this heartbreaking tale of doomed love (Johnson even received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress). Watching them interact with each other, I didn’t just know they were in love, but I could actually feel it. Even when they began to realize they couldn’t keep seeing each other, I could feel the pain in their eyes whenever they looked at each other, knowing it had to end soon. That’s how strong their performances were; even though they were doing something they knew was wrong, you can’t help but root for them. Maybe part of that comes from the fact that it’s extremely difficult to root against true love, but Johnson and Howard bring such strong convictions to their performances that you’d never doubt for a second that they’re in love.
Besides Johnson and Howard, the terrific cast includes Stanley Holloway (as Albert Godby), Joyce Carey (as Myrtle Bagot), and Cyril Raymond (as Fred Jesson, Laura’s husband). Robert Krasker was responsible for the terrific black-and-white cinematography, Jack Harris did a great job with his editing, and David Lean was simply marvelous in his directing. If you ever get a chance to see Brief Encounter on the big screen, please do so. You’ll never regret it.