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Ben Mankiewicz - TCM Daytime Host
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Ben's Top Pick for March

Brief Encounter (1945) - March 25

David Lean will forever be associated with the three big screen epics he directed--The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawerence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago--but his best film may be this 86-minute romantic drama.

Brief Encounter is as un-epical as you can get-- much of the action takes place at a small café at a commuter railway station in England. It's the anti- Lawrence of Arabia.

Celia Johnson stars as Laura, a woman with a kind husband and loving kids--hers is a good life. Then, completely by chance, while waiting for the train home in a nearby town, she meets a doctor named Alec, played Trevor Howard, waiting for his train headed in the opposite direction. A week later, they stumble into each other again and slowly, one week at a time, an intensely credible friendship--and then a romance-- begins to develop.

The story belongs to Johnson, who's telling the story of her affair to her husband, but the conversation is completely in her head. It's what she wishes she had the courage to tell him. Johnson's performance is one of the best of the decade, alternating between profound sadness and unbridled joy, between guilt and glee. And she conveys nearly all of it with her eyes. It's as honest a performance as you'll see--and it earned her an Academy Award® nomination for Best Actress.

But soon after, Johnson put her movie career on hold to raise her children. It was five years before she'd appear on screen again. There's nothing "Hollywood" about Lean's presentation of the affair. Maybe the British were capable of greater emotional honesty about such taboo topics in 1945, but the result is a story that would hardly have to be updated if it were told today. Lean gives us neither heroes nor villains--just human beings at their most vulnerable moments.

Amazingly, this director of grand epics makes Brief Encounter feel claustrophobic at times. As Laura politely listens to a haughty acquaintance prattle on about drivel while she's longing to see Alec, you'll want to barge in, shut the woman up and set Laura free.

You'll ache for Laura. You'll alternate between wanting her to stay with her husband and run off to start a new life with Alec. You'll feel the range of emotions you're accustomed to in a David Lean epic. But you'll do it all in 86 minutes.

by Ben Mankiewicz

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