Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter is a 1945 British romantic movie drama directed by David Lean about British suburban life on the world of World War 2 , centering on Laura, a married woman with children with a stranger, Alec. They fall in love, bringing about unexpected consequences.

The film stars Celia Johnson , Trevor Howard , Stanley Holloway and Joyce Carey . The screenplay is by Noël Coward , based on his 1936 one-act play Still Life . The soundtrack prominently features the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff , played by Eileen Joyce .

Brief Encounter with Lean’s finest works. It has been credited as an important early work of realist cinema for its small scale and the lack of big-name stars in its cast. In 1999, the British Film Institute was voted Brief Encounter the second greatest British film of all time . In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine. [3]


In the latter months of 1938, Laura Jesson, a respectable middle-class British woman in an affectionate but rather dull marriage, tells her story while sitting with her husband, imagining that she is confessing her affair to him.

Laura, like many women of her class at the time, goes to a town for the morning. Returning to one of these trips to Milford, while waiting in the railway station’s tea shop, she is helping by another passenger, who solicitously removes a piece of grit from her eye. The man is Alec Harvey, an idealistic doctor who also works as a consultant at the local hospital. Both are in their late thirties or early forties, married and with children.

Enjoying each other’s company, the two arrange to meet again. They are soon troubled to find their innocent and casual relationship to quickly developing deeper, approaching infidelity.

For a while, they meet openly, until they run into friends of Laura and see you there. The second lie comes easier. They eventually go to Stephen, a friend of Alec’s and a fellow doctor, but are interrupted by Stephen’s unexpected and judgmental return. Laura, humiliated and ashamed, runs down the back stairs and into the streets. She walks for hours, sits on a bench and smokes, and is confronted by a police officer, with the implication that she could be perceived as a ” streetwalker .”

The recent turn of events informs the couple that both business and future are impossible. Realizing the danger and not wishing to hurt their families, they agree to part. Alec has-been offert a job in Johannesburg , South Africa, Where His Brother lives.

Their final meeting is in the railway station refreshment room , now seen for a second time with the poignant perspective of their story. As they await a final heart-rending parting, Dolly Messiter, a talkative acquaintance of Laura, invites them to join them and begins chattering away, oblivious to the couple’s inner misery.

As they realize that they have been robbed of luck for a final goodbye, Alec’s train arrives. With Dolly still chattering, Alec starts with a last look at Laura but without the passionate farewell for which they both long. After shaking Messiter’s hand, he discreetly squeezes Laura on the shoulder and leaves. Laura waits for a moment, anxiously hoping that Alec will walk back into the refreshment room, but he does not. As the train is heard pulling away, Laura is galvanized by emotion, hearing an approaching express train, suddenly dashes out to the platform. The lights of the train flash across her face as she conquers to suicidal impulse. She then returns home to her family.

Laura’s kind and patient husband, Fred, suddenly shows that he has noticed that he has perhaps even guessed the reason. He thanks for coming back to him. She cries in her embrace.


  • Celia Johnson as Laura Jesson
  • Trevor Howard as Dr. Alec Harvey
  • Stanley Holloway as Albert Godby
  • Joyce Carey as Myrtle Bagot
  • Cyril Raymond as Fred Jesson
  • Everley Gregg as Dolly Messiter
  • Margaret Barton as Beryl Walters, assistant tea-room
  • Marjorie Mars as Mary Norton
  • Alfie Bass ( uncredited ) as the waiter at the Royal
  • Wallace Bosco ( uncredited ) as the doctor at Bobbie’s accident
  • Sydney Bromley ( uncredited ) as Johnnie, second soldier
  • Valentine Dyall ( uncredited ) as Stephen Lynn, Alec’s friend
  • Irene Handl ( uncredited ) as cellist and organist

Adaptation of Still Life

The movie is based is Noël Coward ‘s one-act play Still Life (1936), one of ten short plays in the cycle Tonight at 8:30 , designed for Gertrude Lawrence and Coward himself, and to be Performed in various combinations as triple bills. All scenes in Still life are set in the refreshment room of a railway station (the fictional Milford Junction).

Dr. Lynn’s flat , Laura’s home, a movie theater , a restaurant and a branch of Boots the Chemist . In addition, a number of scenes have been added to the play: Dr. Harvey gets his feet wet; Laura wandering alone in the dark, sitting down on a bench, smoking in public and being confronted by a police officer; and a drive in the country in a borrowed car.

Some scenes are made less ambiguous and more dramatic in the film. The scene in which the audience is in the process of being heard; in the movie it is intimated that they do not. In the movie, Laura has just arrived at Dr. Lynn’s flat when the owner returns and is immediately out by Dr. Harvey via the kitchen service door. Later, when Laura seems to want to throw herself in front of an express train, the film makes the intention clearer by means of voice-overnarration. Also, in the play, the characters at the Milford station-Mrs. Baggot, Mr. Godby, Beryl, and Stanley-are very much aware of the growing relationship between Laura and Alec and sometimes mentioning it in an offhand manner, showing their respect for their privacy or just being oblivious. The final scene of the film showing Laura embracing her husband after he shows that he has noticed her distance in the past few weeks and perhaps even guessed the reason is not in the original Coward play.

There are two editions of Coward’s original screenplay for the film adaptation, both listed in the bibliography.

Production notes

Much of the movie was shot at Carnforth railway station in Lancashire, then on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway . The second world war had finished , it was located far enough from the city to avoid the blackout . At Leeds , Bradford , Morecambe and Lancaster , Leeds , Bradford , Morecambe and Lancaster . Christmas Coward makes the station announcements in the film. The station refreshment room was a studio recreation.CarnforthStation still retains many of the features at the time of filming and remains a place of pilgrimage for fans of the film. [4] However, some of the urban scenes were shot in London gold at Denham or Beaconsfield near Denham Studios where the film was made. [5]

The poem that Fred asks Laura to assist with John Keats : ” When I have Fears that I can Cease to Be “. The quote Fred recites is, “When I behold, on the night’s starr face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high Romance ….”

In addition to the verbal reference to Keats, there is a visual reference to an Arabic love poem. In Stephen Lynn’s apartment, a wall hanging is prominently displayed twice. When Laura enters, there is a shot of the table. Later, when Stephen confronts Alec, it’s seen over Alec’s left shoulder.


Excerpts from Sergei Rachmaninoff ‘s Piano Concerto No. 2 recur Throughout the film, played by Eileen Joyce . There is also a stage in a room where the orchestra plays the Spanish Dance No. 5 (Bolero) by Moritz Moszkowski .


Box office

According to trade papers, the film was a “notable box office attraction”. [6] It was the 21st most popular film at the British box office in 1946. [7]


The film was the 1946 Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival . At the 19th Academy Awards , Celia Johnson was nominated for Best Actress while David Lean was nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay along with Anthony Havelock-Allan and Ronald Neame.

Critical reception

Brief Encounter was acclaimed upon its release. [8] It was voted one of the 10 greatest movies ever made in two separate 1952 critics’ polls. [9] In 1999 the movie Was Given the # 2 slot on the British Film Institute ‘s BFI Top 100 British movies .

Today, the film is widely praised for its black-and-white photography and the mood created by the steam-age railway setting, both of which were particular to the original David Lean version. [10] The film was a great success in the UK and such a hit in the US as Celia Johnson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress .


In her book Coward Christmas (1987), Frances Gray says that Brief Encounter is, after the major comedies, the one work of Coward that almost everybody knows and has probably seen; it is frequently seen on television and its viewing figures are invariably high.

“[“] Coward is keeping his eye on the face of his wife and his wife. comedies [….] To look at the script, shorn of David Lean’s beautiful camera work, deprived of an audience who would automatically approve of the final sacrifice, is to find oneself asking awkward questions “(pp. 64-67).

Brief Encounter holds an 89% “fresh” rating at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes . [11] In 1999 it came second in a British Film Institute poll of the top 100 British films . In 2004, the magazine Total Film named it the 44th greatest British film of all time. Derek Malcolm included the film in his 2000 column The Century of Films . The British historian Thomas Dixon notes that Brief Encounter “has become a classic example of a very modern British phenomenon – weeping over the Stiff upper lip, crying at people not crying. The audiences for these wartime weepies could, through their own tears, provide something that was lacking in their own lives as well as those of the on-screen stoicsthey admired. ” [12]

The British play and film The History Boys features two of the main characters reciting a passage of the film. (The scene portrayed, with Posner playing Celia Johnson and Scripps as Cyril Raymond, is in the closing minutes of the movie where Laura begins, “I really meant to do it.”)

Kathryn Altman, wife of director Robert Altman said, “One day, years and years ago, just after the war, [Altman] had nothing to do and he went to a theater in the middle of the afternoon to see a movie. Hollywood movie: A British movie .He said the main character was not glamorous, not a babe and he was first wondering why he was even watching it.But 20 minutes later he was in tears, and had fallen in love with her. it made him feel that it was not just a movie. ” The film was Brief Encounter . [13]

The Channel 4 British drama series Shameless has a plot based on Brief Encounter in its fifth series. Similarities include the main character, Frank Gallagher getting grit in his eye from a bus, being caught by a friend of his wife, and the tearful departure. Frank’s wife, Monica even thanks Frank for coming back. quote needed ]

Brief Encounter also loosely inspired ” Mum’s Army “, an episode of the British comedy series Dad’s Army . There is a similar final scene in a railway station. quote needed ]

A 1974 television remake of the film, shown in the US Hallmark Hall of Fame , starred Richard Burton and Sophia Loren , but was received. [14]

In the 2012 Sight & Sound polls of the world’s greatest films, Brief Encounter received the votes of 11 critics and three directors. [15]

Social context

Frances Gray acknowledges a common criticism of the play: why do not the characters consummate the affair? Gray argues that their problem is class consciousness : the working classes can act in a vulgar way, and the upper class can be silly; But the middle class is, or at least, considered the moral backbone of society – a concept whose validity Coward did not really want to question or jeopardize, as the middle classes were Coward’s main audience.

However, Laura in her narration stresses that what she holds is her horror at the thought of betraying her husband and her steady moral values. Indeed, it is this one that has made the film such an enduring favorite.

The values ​​which Laura precariously, but the results of the film are quite popular (at the time of the film’s original setting) Edward VIII to abdicate in 1936). The remake could not compete with the world. [16]

The film was released amid the social and cultural context of the Second World War when ‘brief encounters’ were thought to be commonplace and women had far greater sexual and economic freedom than previously. In British National Cinema (1997), Sarah Street argues that ” Brief Encounter thus articulated a range of feelings about infidelity which invites easy identification, whether it involves one’s husband, lover, children or country” (p.55). In this context, feminist critics read the film as an attempt to stabilize relationships to return to the status quo. citation needed ] Meanwhile, in his 1993 BFI book on the movie, Richard Dyerhomosexual law reform notes, gay men also viewed the plight of the characters as comparable to their own social constraint in the formation and maintenance of relationships. Sean O’Connor considers the film to be an “allegorical representation of forbidden love” by Noël Coward’s experiences as a closeted homosexual. [17]

Further adaptations


Brief Encounter was adapted to radio play on 20 November 1946 episode of Academy Award Theater starring Greer Garson . [18] It was presented three times is The Screen Guild Theater , first one 12 May 1947 episode with Herbert Marshall and Lilli Palmer , again is 12 January 1948 with Herbert Marshall and Irene Dunne and finally one 11 January 1951 with Stewart Grangerand Deborah Kerr . It was also adapted to Lux Radio Theater on 29 November 1948 episode with Van Heflin and Greer Garson and on 14 May 1951 episode withOlivia de Havilland and Richard Basehart .

On 30 October 2009, as share of the celebrations for the 75th anniversary of the BBC ‘s Maida Vale Studios , Jenny Seagrove and Nigel Havers starred in a special Radio 2 Production of Brief Encounter , Performed live from Maida Vale studio’s 6 (MV6). The script used was a 1947 adaptation for Maurice Horspool, which had been in the BBC’s ownership and had never been used or performed since then. In addition, there were two Theater Guild On The Air broadcasts of Brief Encounters in its original form, Still Life . The first version aired on April 6, 1947 over ABC withIngrid Bergman , Sam Wanamaker and Peggy Wood . The second one was presented over NBC on November 13, 1949 and starred Helen Hayes and David Niven .


The first adaptation of Brief Encounter which sourced both the screenplay and Coward’s original stage material was adapted by Andrew Taylor and starred Hayley Mills in the lead role. The first national tour took place in 1996 and later transferred to the West End (Lyric Theater, Shaftesbury Avenue) in 2000 starring Jenny Seagrove.

The 2008 Kneehigh Theater production, produced by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers , was adapted for the stage and directed by Emma Rice and is a mixture of film and stage play, with additional musical elements. It toured the UK before opening in February 2008 at the London Haymarket Cinema, which was converted into a theater for the play. [19] [20] The 2008 London cast included Amanda Lawrence and Tamzin Griffin, with Tristan Sturrock and Naomi Frederick in the lead roles. The production ran until October 2008 and then toured the UK for 27 weeks from February to July 2009, with venues including the Oxford Playhouse, Marlowe Theater and the Richmond Theaterand with the two leads played by Hannah Yelland and Milo Twomey. The US premiere at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, CA ran from September to October 2009. [21] The adaptation was performed in Brooklyn, New York at St. Ann’s Warehouse in December 2009 and January 2010 and at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in February – April 2010. [22]

A Roundabout Theater Company production of the Kneehigh adaptation opened at Studio 54 in New York City on September 28, 2010 starring Hannah Yelland, Tristan Sturrock, and other members of the London cast. [23] The limited engagement closed on 2 January 2011, after 21 previews and 119 performances, including a four-week extension. [24]

After an Australian tour in autumn 2013, Kneehigh’s production of Christmas Coward’s Brief Encounter appears at the New Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills and the Shakespeare Theater in Washington in Spring 2014 [25]


In May 2009 Houston Grand Opera premiered a two-act opera Brief Encounter based on the story, with music by André Previn from a libretto by John Caird . [26]


  1. Jump up^ “BRIEF ENCOUNTER” . British Board of Film Classification . Retrieved 25 August 2017
  2. Jump up^ “US Life or Death to Brit Pix”, Variety 25 Dec 1946 p 9
  3. Jump up^ “The 100 best British movies”. Time Out . Retrieved 24 October 2017
  4. Jump up^ “BBC – Cumbria – Cumbria 0n Movie – Brief Encounter” . . Retrieved 10 March 2016 .
  5. Jump up^ Whitaker, Brian (Comp.) (1990). Notes & Queries . Fourth Estate. ISBN  1-872180-22-1 .
  6. Jump up^ Robert Murphy, Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-1948 2003 P209
  7. Jump up^ “Hollywood Sneaks In 15 Movies on ’25 Best ‘List of Arty Britain”. The Washington Post . Jan. 15, 1947. p. 2.
  8. Jump up^ Turner, Adrian (June 26, 2000). “Brief Encounter” . Retrieved March 17, 2017 . On its initial release, Brief Encounter was hailed as a groundbreaking piece of realism […]
  9. Jump up^ “Brief Encounter (1945)” . Turner Classic Movies, Inc . Retrieved March 17, 2017 .
  10. Jump up^ Huntley, John (1993). Railways on the Screen . Ian Allan. ISBN  0-7110-2059-0 .
  11. Jump up^ “Brief Encounter” . . November 26, 1945 . Retrieved 10 March 2016 .
  12. Jump up^ Dixon, Thomas (2015). Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears . Oxford. ISBN  978-0-19-967605-7 .
  13. Jump up^ A quote from the final scene in the 2014 documentary Altman .
  14. Jump up^ “TV – ‘Brief Encounter’ – Burton and Loren Miss Portray Lovers on Hallmark Movie at 8 – 30 on NBC – Article –” . . November 12, 1974 . Retrieved 10 March 2016 .
  15. Jump up^ “Votes for Brief Encounter (1946)” . British Film Institute . Retrieved January 28, 2017 .
  16. Jump up^ Handford, Peter (1980). Sounds of Railways . David & Charles. ISBN  0-7153-7631-4 .
  17. Jump up^ O’Connor, p. 157
  18. Jump up^ “Greet Garson Stars in” Brief Encounter “On Academy Award – WHP”. Harrisburg Telegraph. November 16, 1946. p. 17 . Retrieved September 14, 2015 – via .
  19. Jump up^ Billington, Michael (18 February 2008). “Theater Review: Brief Encounter” . The Guardian . London . Retrieved 26 April 2010 .
  20. Jump up^ Cheal, David (8 February 2008). “Brief Encounter: ‘I want to laugh and cry. That’s our job ‘ ” . The Daily Telegraph . London.
  21. Jump up^ [1]
  22. Jump up^ Kneehigh Theater tour Archiveddates22 January 2009 at theWayback Machine.
  23. Jump up^ Noel Coward’sBrief Encounterto Open at Studio 54 in SeptemberBroadwayWorld.comRetrieved 12 September 2010.
  24. Jump up^ Jones, Kenneth. “Broadway’s ‘Brief Encounter’, a Romance With Theatrical Lift, Ends Jan. 2” Archived14 January 2011 at theWayback Machine., 2 January 2011
  25. Jump up^ Kneehigh Tour Dates[2]Retrieved October 2013.
  26. Jump up^ Houston Opera Grand Performance Page ArchivedMarch 30, 2009 at theWayback Machine.


  • The Great British Films, pp. 91-93, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN  0-8065-0661-X
  • Coward, Christmas. Brief Encounter: Screenplay . London: Faber and Faber, 1999. ISBN  0-571-19680-2
  • Dyer, Richard (1993). Brief encounter . London: British Film Institute. ISBN  9780851703626 .
  • O’Connor, Sean. Straight Acting: Popular Gay Drama from Wilde to Rattigan . London: Cassell, 1998. ISBN  0-304-32866-9
  • Street, Sarah. British National Cinema . London: Routledge, 1997. ISBN  0-415-06736-7

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