Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter (1945)

Thurdays in Milford

"Brief Encounter" is one of those movies which brings out the best and worst in people, those who fall in love with this 1940s romance will wax lyrical at its beauty and the use of Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No.2.", but they go on the attack when someone suggests it's not the great movie they think it is. What is also interesting is what "Brief Encounter" means to people because put simply this is a story about a man and woman dabbling with having an affair, but then you have those who say it is about freedom whilst others suggest it is symbolic of women being tied to social expectation. I'm not going to say either of those are wrong because I believe that "Brief Encounter" speaks to people in different ways and for me it is all about the fact that love hurts.

It all started on an innocent Thursday at Milford Junction, as a train moved off a speck of grit landed in the eye of Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and as she tried to wash it out Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard - The Way to the Stars) offered his assistance. Nothing happened, nor did it the following Thursday when they bumped into each other again but when they ended up sharing a table at a restaurant something did start, feelings started as Alec fell for Laura and Laura for him despite both being married.

Joyce Carey and Margaret Barton in Brief Encounter (1945)

So here we have a 1945 movie all about adultery, not quite the "Unfaithful" of its era but one which is to put it bluntly about a married woman and a married man having secret rendezvous on Thursdays in Milford. Now as already mentioned "Brief Encounter" is a movie which seems to speak to people in various ways be it just about freedom from the norm or more specifically a trapped housewife feeling freedom from the drudgery of her routine marriage. But for me this is a movie about love and how it makes you feel, how that initial feeling of maybe makes you nervous but the first kiss and declaration of love makes you feel like you are walking on air. It is beautifully done and it captures nicely the emotion, the insecurity and elation of fledgling love, the romantic notions and far away dreams of bliss. Yes it still has that element of subterfuge as we also have this affair being played out in secret but it is all about the feeling.

But as I already said it is also about how love hurts how the end of a relationship makes you feel, the hope it's not over but the logic telling you that it is for the best. And then we have the emptiness, the huge hole and pain left when love ends leaving just memories. It is for me what makes "Brief Encounter" such a classic movie because in the space of 86 minutes we run the gamut of love, the highs and lows, the joy and the tears.

There is of course the fact that "Brief Encounter" is a David Lean movie and for those who love to analyse and sometimes over analyse a director's vision have plenty to get their teeth stuck into here. There is the dirty location of the train station and the cafe, the use of light and dark to differentiate between freedom and social restriction and plenty else. But to put it simply Lean has crafted a great looking movie which is full of atmosphere and the use of music especially Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No.2." to create an intoxicating mood.

But for everything David Lean does "Brief Encounter" owes a lot to the chemistry of Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard who despite basically contemplating adultery are a couple to fall in love with. In a strange way whilst Howard turns on the charm and delivers a solid character it is Celia Johnson as Laura who we connect with, it is her account we hear, her emotional rollercoaster we relive and her sense of hurt we feel. It is such a strong performance from both Johnson and Howard that very few movies can compete when it comes to authenticity in the romantic stakes.

What this all boils down to is that for me "Brief Encounter" is a brilliant movie, a great David Lean movie with equally great performances from Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. It is now almost 70 years old but for me the fundamental story of love and hurt is still a powerful one.