Brief Encounter (1974)

I was slightly surprised when I heard there had been a Brief Encounter  remake, because the 1940s original (which I reviewed here recently) is such a masterpiece. (The 1990s movie Falling in Love, which I’ve also seen recently and like very much, isn’t really a remake, but a new film loosely inspired by the story.) However, having watched the version from 1974, a TV movie which stars Sophia Loren and Richard Burton, I now feel it is a tribute to the earlier movie – and a re-imagining of what it would be like if a couple faced the same dilemma in the 1970s.

briefencounterburtonThis is not a classic which will endure and endlessly fascinate as the Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard film has done. But, for all that, I think it is an interesting, if flawed, movie, in its own right, and deserves better than to be dismissed out of hand.

Director Alan Bridges has also made many TV costume dramas, including BBC adaptations of classics dating back to the 1960s, and at least  two movie period dramas which I loved, The Return of the Soldier, based on the Rebecca West novel, and The Shooting Party, from Isabel Colegate’s novel, so he does have a real love for material which looks back to the past.  I don’t know much about John Bowen,  the scriptwriter who has heavily reworked Coward’s plot and words,  but he did write a number of TV plays and adaptations.

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Brief Encounter (1945)

Although I’d never seen Brief Encounter in full, I thought I knew what it would be like. I’d seen various short clips, and gained an impression of the impossibly posh, clipped voices, the emotional repression and the strained nobility of behaviour. I’d also seen the scene in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys   which gently mocks the poignant final moments.

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard

However, none of this gets anywhere near the experience of watching the film as a whole. This year I went on a visit to Carnforth in Lancashire, where the famous railway scenes were filmed. I  saw the opening scenes of the film on a large screen in the waiting room at the museum there, where it  seems to be shown on a loop – and, getting hooked on the story within minutes, quickly realised it was very different from the impression of it I’d acquired.  I now have the DVD (the region 2 version which sadly doesn’t have a commentary, though it does have a featurette going behind the scenes), have watched it in full a couple of times, and am full of admiration.

David Lean’s direction and Noel Coward’s script, adapted from his play Still Life, are both great, and the dark, austere scenes, always full of the wartime atmosphere though the war is never mentioned, linger in the memory long after watching.

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