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Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter(1945)

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teaser Brief Encounter (1945)

A married doctor and a middle-class wife and mother have a chance meeting when the woman gets a cinder in her eye. The doctor stops to help and the two strangers suddenly discover an unexpected attraction between them. Years of dreary, dull routine give way to a new sensual awakening for the couple as they begin to see each other frequently but they know, in the end, they must return to their spouses and resume their former lives.

Director: David Lean
Producer: Noel Coward, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame
Screenplay: Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, Ronald Neame
Based on the play "Still Life" by Noel Coward
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Editing: Jack Harris
Art Direction: Lawrence P. Williams
Music: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Cast: Celia Johnson (Laura Jesson), Trevor Howard (Alec Harvey), Cyril Raymond (Fred Jesson), Stanley Holloway (Albert Godby), Joyce Carey (Myrtle Bagot), Everley Gregg (Dolly Messiter), Valentine Dyall (Stephen Lynn), Irene Handl (Organist)
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Why BRIEF ENCOUNTER is Essential

Brief Encounter was the film that first established David Lean as one of the world's great directors, with a sense of character and romantic fatalism that would be found in such later hits as Great Expectations (1946), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).

It was also Lean's first film to use trains and train stations, which would become a trademark of his work, appearing in such films as Summertime (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

In England, Brief Encounter became what Sir Richard Attenborough calls "a landmark and touchstone" for the film industry. Made on a small scale and without stars, it pointed the way for filmmakers wanting to try new things by showing just how successful a seemingly noncommercial property could be.

The film was one of several post-World War II hits -- including Laurence Olivier's Henry V, Compton Bennett's The Seventh Veil and Lean's Blithe Spirit (all 1945) -- to help establish British films as financially viable in U.S. markets. The quartet of British pictures also did surprisingly well in the Academy Award® nominations, making 1946 the first year the Oscars® took on an international flavor.

This was the fourth and final collaboration for Lean and Noel Coward. They had previously co-directed the World War II drama In Which We Serve (1942), from Coward's script. Then Lean directed and co-wrote screen versions of Coward's This Happy Breed (1944) and Blithe Spirit (1945), with Coward producing.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Brief Encounter (1945)

Pop Culture 101 - BRIEF ENCOUNTER

In 1952, Brief Encounter tied for ninth place as best film ever made in a survey conducted by the Cinematheque Belgique and tenth in the Sight and Sound survey.

Trevor Howard re-created his role in an American television version which aired in 1954 and Ginger Rogers played the female lead.

Howard eventually came to view Brief Encounter's success as a hindrance to his career, blinding people to his other achievements. When one too many interviewers asked about the film, he slammed down the phone after yelling, "Anyone would think I made nothing else."

The scene in which Howard borrows a friend's apartment hoping to make love to Johnson inspired writer-director Billy Wilder years later to create The Apartment (1960), in which Jack Lemmon stars as a young man who rises in the business world by loaning his apartment to executives in need of a place for their extra-marital dalliances.

In an effort to launch a career as a dramatic actress, singer Dinah Shore devoted an episode of her weekly variety show to an adaptation of Brief Encounter in which she co-starred with Barry Sullivan.

In a comic parallel to Brief Encounter, George Segal has an extra-marital affair with Glenda Jackson in A Touch of Class (1973). At one point they even weep copiously while watching the Lean film on television. Other films in which characters view Brief Encounter include Truly Madly Deeply (1991) and The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996).

Although Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto became a hit because of its use in Brief Encounter, in another Coward script, Blithe Spirit (1945), the medium, Madame Arcati (Margaret Rutherford), refuses to use his music during a sance, deeming it "too florid."

Brief Encounter was remade as a television movie in 1974 with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren in the leads.

British director Alan Parker used the film as the basis for a television commercial for frozen food.

Howard and Johnson reunited 35 years later as an aging married couple in the British television movie Staying On (1980), based on a story from Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet. Many reviewers said the film made it seem that their Brief Encounter characters had stayed together.

The film's international success has made Carnforth Station a Mecca for romantic film fans. The clock was reconstructed from original pieces found in a shop in Twickenham. The tea-room where Johnson and Howard met is now a visitor's center.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Brief Encounter (1945)

Trivia & Fun Facts on BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto provides most of the film's score. The picture opens with the start of the first movement and ends with the third movement's final bars.

The extra walking on the train platform as Stanley Holloway enters the refreshment room at the film's opening was Elaine Maudsley, who worked in the refreshment room during filming and won the role as a reward for providing cast and crew with tea. When Holloway kept playfully grabbing for her legs, director David Lean had her move further up the platform.

Posters advertised the film with the line, "A story of the most precious moments in a woman's life!" The Toronto exhibitor, however, must have missed the film's restraint and the fact that the love affair is never consummated when he sold the film with the line, "Girls who live dangerously."

The film was banned in Ireland for treating adultery sympathetically.

Some of the train sounds recorded at Carnforth Station were re-used in Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

The bad film Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard walk out on is titled Flames of Passion, an in-joke reference to a 1922 British silent film starring Mae Marsh and written by noted producer Herbert Wilcox. The title re-surfaced years later on a gay porn film modeled on Brief Encounter.

One error in the film is a shot of a train headed North on the Southbound track. When Lean realized he needed the shot, he had an earlier shot of a Southbound train reversed.

After the success of Brief Encounter, Lean was accosted by an angry man in a train station, who told him how much he hated the film. "Do you realize, Sir, that if Celia Johnson could contemplate being unfaithful to her husband, my wife could contemplate being unfaithful to me?" he stammered.

Three other plays from Noel Coward's Tonight at 8:30 were filmed under that title in England in 1952 and released in the U.S. as Meet Me Tonight. The film included "Ways and Means," with Valerie Hobson; "Fumed Oak," with Stanley Holloway; and "Red Peppers," with Kay Walsh. We Were Dancing was expanded as a vehicle for Norma Shearer in 1942. "Red Peppers" and "Hands Across the Sea" were adapted as experimental television broadcasts in England in 1938. "Red Peppers" also inspired television adaptations in 1958, 1969 and 1991, the latter starring Joan Collins and Anthony Newley.

Leading lady Celia Johnson could be considered James Bond's aunt. Her husband, travel writer Peter Fleming, was Bond author Ian Fleming's brother. Her daughters currently hold literary rights to the Bond books.

Famous Quotes from BRIEF ENCOUNTER

"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" -- Celia Johnson, as Laura Jesson, contemplating the pain of her separation from Trevor Howard as Dr. Alec Harvey.

"Fred -- dear Fred, there's so much I want to say to you. You're the only one in the world with enough wisdom and gentleness to understand. If only it were somebody else's story and not mine. As it is, you're the only one in the world that I can never tell." -- Johnson, as Laura, speaking to her husband in voice over to start her narration.

"It all started on an ordinary day, in the most ordinary place in the world." -- Johnson, as Laura, thinking back on her first meeting with Howard, as Dr. Alec Harvey.

"That's how it all began, just through me getting a little piece of grit in my eye. I completely forgot the whole incident. It didn't mean anything to me at all. At least I didn't think it did." -- Johnson recalling her first meeting with Howard.

"Well, I must be getting along to the hospital."
"Now I must be getting along to the grocers."
"What exciting lives we lead, don't we?" -- Howard and Johnson meeting for the second time.

"I stood there and watched his train draw out of the station. I stared after it, until its taillight had vanished into the darkness. I imagined him getting out at Churley, giving up his ticket, walking back through the streets, letting himself into his house with his latchkey. His wife, Madeleine, will probably be in the hall to meet him or perhaps upstairs in her room, not feeling very well. Small, dark, and rather delicate. I wondered if he'd say: 'I met such a nice woman at the Kardomah. We had lunch and went to the pictures.' And then suddenly, I knew that he wouldn't. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that he wouldn't say a word - and at that moment, the first awful feeling of danger swept over me." -- Johnson, realizing she and Howard have embarked on a romance.

"I've been looking for you everywhere -- I've watched every train." -- Howard, on the day he and Johnson almost miss each other.

"I've fallen in love! I'm an ordinary woman. I didn't think such violent things could happen to ordinary people." --Johnson.

"It's awfully easy to lie to someone when you know you're trusted implicitly, so very easy and so very degrading." -- Johnson's guilt begins to surface.

"If you don't learn to behave yourself there won't be a tonight. Or any night either!" -- Joyce Carey, as Myrtle Bagot, trying to cool down Stanley Holloway, as Albert Godby.

"How often did you decide that you were never going to see me again?"
"Several times a day."
"So did I." -- Howard and Johnson considering their tortured relationship.

"I want to remember every minute. Always. Always. To the end of my days." -- Johnson, as she and Howard end their relationship.

"You've been a long way away. Thank you for coming back to me." -- Cyril Raymond, as Fred Jesson, almost acknowledging his wife's romance.

Compiled by Frank Miller

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teaser Brief Encounter (1945)

The Big Idea Behind BRIEF ENCOUNTER

After the success of In Which We Serve (1942) -- written by Noel Coward, who co-directed with David Lean and co-produced with Anthony Havelock-Allan -- Lean and Havelock-Allan had broken off from producer Filippo Del Giudice's Two Cities films to create Cineguild in order to keep a larger share of the profits from subsequent films. Their first production re-united them with Coward for the hit adaptation of his play Blithe Spirit (1945).

As a follow-up, Lean wanted to direct a film about Mary, Queen of Scots, but Coward convinced him that he wasn't ready for a costume picture. Instead, he suggested a contemporary story adapted from his own one-act play "Still Life."

Coward had written "Still Life" for himself and Gertrude Lawrence as part of Tonight at 8:30, three rotating bills of one-act plays with which they dazzled London and New York audiences in the '30s. "Still Life" was a rarity for the comic playwright in that it was a serious drama.

MGM had originally picked up the rights to Tonight at 8:30, but had only filmed one of the plays, We Were Dancing. British producer Sydney Box then bought the rights from them and sold each play separately to The Rank Organization. Cineguild had to pay 60,000 pounds for the screen rights.

When Lean read Coward's first draft of what would become Brief Encounter, he hated it, and told Coward there was nothing to hold an audience. When Coward asked him how he could do that, Lean came up with the idea of telling the story in flashback. They opened with a seemingly innocuous scene in which a talkative woman interrupts two friends sitting in a railway caf. Only as the story unfolded in flashback would the audience realize that the scene was really about a final farewell between two lovers.

According to Lean, Coward took his suggestions and re-wrote the screenplay in four days. Havelock-Allan, however, claimed that Coward never worked on the screenplay. Rather, he, Lean and co-producer Ronald Neame did all the work, inventing additional scenes to flesh out Coward's 30-minute play. They received the only screenplay credit.

Neame missed much of the writing process, as he was in the U.S. researching American filmmaking techniques. On his return, he says the three credited writers met with Coward frequently to create dialogue.

In coming up with a new title, Coward suggested they emphasize the smallness of the picture. When the word "brief" came up in brainstorming sessions, Coward's personal artistic supervisor, Gladys Calthrop, suggested Brief Encounter.

Celia Johnson, who had made her feature film debut in In Which We Serve and later appeared in This Happy Breed (1944), was first choice to play Laura Jesson.

The production team had a harder time deciding on the film's male lead. Havelock-Allan suggested Roger Livesey, but Lean wanted a relative unknown. While screening Anthony Asquith's The Way to the Stars (1945), Lean became intrigued with an actor cast in a small role as a doomed RAF officer. After one shot of him with a plane flying overhead, he decided Trevor Howard was the perfect actor to play Dr. Alec Harvey.

Howard almost lost the role before he had it. The actor rarely paid attention to his mail, and the script and job offer sent by his agent lay on a table unopened for weeks. When Havelock-Allan called the actor in for a costume fitting, Howard said he couldn't come because he had promised to take his wife to the movies.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Brief Encounter (1945)

Behind the Camera on BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Brief Encounter was shot during the final days of World War II, going into production in January 1945. Filming was completed in May, with an interruption on May 4 to celebrate Germany's surrender.

Originally the train station scenes were set for London, but with the threat of German rocket attacks during the last days of the war, the company was evacuated outside the city. The producers chose Carnforth Station in Southeast England because it was one of the largest provincial stations and was far enough from the coast that they would have time to turn off the lights in the event of an air raid and blackout warning.

Shooting at Carnforth station usually started at 10:30 p.m. and continued until 6 a.m., before the morning commute started.

Another advantage offered by Carnforth Station was the fact that it had a ramp leading up to the train platform. Lean thought it would be more effective for the actors to be running up the ramp to catch their trains and that running up steps might have made them look ridiculous.

Unhappy with the location of the station's refreshment room, Lean had a different one built in another part of the station for exterior shots. For interiors, he shot in a film studio in Denham, although the set was closely modeled on the real room.

Although there was no mention of it in the script, Lean was so intrigued with the station's clock that he made frequent use of it in the film. This actually required making dummy face for it so that the times would be appropriate and could be read more easily in long shots.

Leading lady Celia Johnson was not looking forward to the four week location shoot at the railway station, but her opinion changed when they got there and the cast and crew developed a spirit of camaraderie. Between scenes she usually played poker with the crew or worked a crossword puzzle. She also was impressed with the hospitality shown by the station master, who let them warm up in his office during the cold winter nights.

The production drew extras from the area around Carnforth. Those involved were particularly pleased to enjoy the dinner provided each night, which included sweets and other items restricted by wartime rationing.

When Lean tried to get shots of express trains speeding through the station, he ran into a problem. The engineers, not used to the camera lights being used during the location shoot, had slowed down to a crawl as they approached, fearing there was some problem. He had to get a railway traffic officer to send word to other stations assuring the drivers there was nothing wrong, and they could maintain speed.

Other location shooting took place in Beaconsfield, a small town near Denham. The boat ride sequence was shot in Regent's Park in London.

Cast in his first major film role, Trevor Howard had a hard time adapting to acting for the camera. For the scene in which he had to rattle off a list of diseases while both he and Johnson are really fighting their feelings for each other, it took him so many takes to capture both the script and what was beneath it, that Johnson began having problems maintaining spontaneity.

Howard also had trouble understanding the character's delicacy in dealing with the woman he loved. For the scene in the flat, he couldn't see why the man didn't just make love to her as soon as she showed up. When Lean tried to explain that the sudden intimacy and the unprecedented opportunity to consummate their love had suddenly made the characters shy, Howard could only respond with, "I must say, you are a funny chap."

Noel Coward chose Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto as the film's background music. It was his favorite musical piece. The film's composer, Muir Mathieson, objected, wanting to compose the entire score himself. When Coward insisted that the piece was part of the character's life, Mathieson gave in -- on condition that Johnson be shown turning on the radio to listen to the piece and that the music not be re-arranged for the film .

Because Lean and producer Ronald Neame were busy filming Great Expectations (1946) on location, the film had its first preview in front of a working class audience in Rochester. The results were disastrous, with the audience laughing through the most romantic scenes.

At the film's press screening, Lean sat next to drama critic James Agate, who delivered a stinging commentary on everything he considered wrong with the film, at full voice, throughout the presentation.

Anthony Havelock-Allan was convinced the only place the film would do well was France, but the major French distributor, Gaumont, turned it down. They only changed their minds when Brief Encounter won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It turned out to be a big hit in France.

Brief Encounter opened at the Little Carnegie, an art house in New York, to respectable business and good reviews. Positive word of mouth, however, drove up attendance records. By its fifth week there, when most films would have been fading fast, it broke the house record. It ended up running a total of eight months.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Brief Encounter (1945)

The Critics' Corner - BRIEF ENCOUNTER

"A shining example of how good a film can be when all idea of making it smart, snappy or glamorous has been discarded from the start." - The Guardian.

"An outstanding example of good middle-class cinema turned by sheer professional craft into a masterpiece; even those bored by the theme must be riveted by the treatment, especially the use of a dismal railway station and its trains." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial).

"Both a pleasure to watch as a well-controlled piece of work, and deeply touching." - James Agee.

"A celebrated, craftsmanlike tearjerker, and incredibly neat. There's not a breath of air in it. Coward's material is implicitly condescending even while he's making the two heroic." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt & Co.).

"Although Noel Coward is a man of the theatre, his script is cinematic and revived the use of the flashback. Brief Encounter's value lies above all in its documentary-like description of provincial, middle-class English life, using both sets and realistic details..." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films (University of California Press).

"The whole colour, the spring, the almost magical feeling of the discovery that someone's in love with you; that someone feels it's exciting to be with you; that is something so tenuous that it's hardly ever been put on the screen." -- C.A. Lejeune, The Listener

"Brief Encounter is so far removed from the ordinary run of screen romances that it speaks, as it were, in another cinematic language." -- The New York Herald Tribune

"This is a poet's film, harsh, cruel and lovely. There have been few better British films than Brief Encounter even at a time when our studios are taking their place in the vanguard of this great contemporary art." -- Monthly Film Bulletin

"...what is most exceptional about it is that it dares to allow its average characters to remain average..." -- The Saturday Review

"It is the visualization of a fantasy of many sexually repressed women...If ending is frustrating for viewers, it is equally frustrating for the two would-be lovers - if they'd been French rather than British, it all would have worked out fine." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic (Fireside).

"Nowadays I am rarely moved to tears in the cinema and during Brief Encounter I found my handkerchief a sodden ball without having noticed I was crying because I was too absorbed in what I was seeing." - E. Arnot Robertson, Daily Mail.

"Intense and unforgettable, underscored by perfect use of Rachmaninoff's "Second Piano Concerto." - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Plume).

"Brief Encounter with its streams of tears and its amorously awkward couple - the least sensual and most sentimental film ever wept over. Some people even weep thinking about it - inexhaustible tears from English crocodiles." - Francois Truffaut, The Films in My Life (Touchstone).

Awards & Honors - THE QUIET MAN

Brief Encounter won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The New York Film Critics Circle named Celia Johnson Best Actress of the year.

The New York Times placed the film sixth on its annual list of top ten films, while Time Magazine placed it fourth.

The film was one of many imports to receive multiple Oscar® nominations in the post-World War II years, after years of the Academy®'s ignoring international films. In fact, some studio heads grumbled at the sudden prominence of non-Hollywood films at the Oscars® and threatened to withdraw their financial backing from the Academy®. Brief Encounter was nominated for three awards: Best Actress (Celia Johnson), Best Director and Best Screenplay.

In 1999, members of the British Film Institute voted Brief Encounter the second best British film of all time, just behind another Trevor Howard film, The Third Man (1949).

Five years later, British film critics voted it the same place on their list of greatest British films. This time, however, it came in second to Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Brief Encounter (1945)

A married doctor and a middle-class wife and mother have a chance meeting when the woman gets a cinder in her eye. The doctor stops to help and the two strangers suddenly discover an unexpected attraction between them. Years of dreary, dull routine give way to a new sensual awakening for the couple as they begin to see each other frequently but they know, in the end, they must return to their spouses and resume their former lives.

Brief Encounter (1945) was the film that first established David Lean as one of the world's great directors, with a sense of character and romantic fatalism that would be found in such later hits as Great Expectations (1946), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).

It was also Lean's first film to use trains and train stations, which would become a trademark of his work, appearing in such films as Summertime (1955), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.

In England, Brief Encounter became what Sir Richard Attenborough calls "a landmark and touchstone" for the film industry. Made on a small scale and without stars, it pointed the way for filmmakers wanting to try new things by showing just how successful a seemingly noncommercial property could be.

The film was one of several post-World War II hits -- including Laurence Olivier's Henry V, Compton Bennett's The Seventh Veil and Lean's Blithe Spirit (all 1945) -- to help establish British films as financially viable in U.S. markets. The quartet of British pictures also did surprisingly well in the Academy Award® nominations, making 1946 the first year the Oscars® took on an international flavor.

This was the fourth and final collaboration for Lean and Noel Coward. They had previously co-directed the World War II drama In Which We Serve (1942), from Coward's script. Then Lean directed and co-wrote screen versions of Coward's This Happy Breed (1944) and Blithe Spirit (1945), with Coward producing.

Director: David Lean
Producer: Noel Coward, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame
Screenplay: Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean, Ronald Neame
Based on the play "Still Life" by Noel Coward
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Editing: Jack Harris
Art Direction: Lawrence P. Williams
Music: Sergei Rachmaninoff
Cast: Celia Johnson (Laura Jesson), Trevor Howard (Alec Harvey), Cyril Raymond (Fred Jesson), Stanley Holloway (Albert Godby), Joyce Carey (Myrtle Bagot), Everley Gregg (Dolly Messiter), Valentine Dyall (Stephen Lynn), Irene Handl (Organist)
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by Frank Miller

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