ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Should I Watch..? 'Brief Encounter' (1945)

Updated on June 21, 2022
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

DVD cover for "Brief Encounter"
DVD cover for "Brief Encounter" | Source

What's the big deal?

Brief Encounter is a romantic drama film released in 1945, loosely based on the one-act play Still Life by Noël Coward. It centres on the emotional fall-out created by two separately married people who develop a deep attraction for each other. Winning the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and earning nominations at the Academy Awards, the film's stature has only grown over the years and it is now considered one of the greatest romantic films of all time. Indeed, the British Film Institute (BFI) voted the film as the second greatest British film in history behind 1949's The Third Man in a poll held in 1999. The film would also cement director David Lean's reputation as a world-class director and even today, remains a powerfully evocative look at the dangers of forbidden love.


5 stars for Brief Encounter

What's it about?

The film is a flashback with a narration provided by married housewife Laura Jesson, a respectable middle-class lady trapped in an affectionate but dull marriage. Returning from a day in town shopping, she is helped by kindly gentleman Dr Alec Harvey when she gets a small piece of grit in her eye. Enjoying each others company, they agree to meet up again soon despite both being married and with children.

Before long, they quickly discover that their feelings for each other are greater than either of them supposed. With people talking about their blossoming relationship, they feel the need to become ever more discreet. Will Laura and Alec ever find a way to be together or are they destined to be forever parted?

Trailer - Blu-ray reissue

What's to like?

It's easy to think of old black-and-white movies as being a bit rigid, formal and stagey, especially if they're British or based on a play. Brief Encounter shatters that preconception by being wonderfully scored, beautifully shot and perfectly performed. The film's central premise would have been controversial at the time but even today, it's all too easy to identify with Johnson's desperate housewife who clings to a fantasy even when all hope appears lost. The performances of Howard and Johnson are utterly compelling and at no point in the film does your attention stray from their personal tragedies.

Most modern movies that dare to call themselves "romantic" are anything but, fuelled by at least one sex scene (where the female cast member will reveal far more than their male counterpart) and humour which is both implausible and unfunny. Brief Encounter is possibly the most romantic film I can think of and is brave enough to show that love does have a dark side when it becomes all-consuming. The drama is elevated further by the stirring piano soundtrack by Rachmaninoff while Lean's noir-ish use of lighting illustrates exactly how dark he's prepared to go. Even at the end, as the train rushes past Laura stood on the platform, you can barely believe that a film forged in the dying embers of World War 2 could be this powerful, this dramatic and this surprising. It is an absolute masterpiece.

Celia Johnson's performance perfectly captures the character's roller-coaster of emotions
Celia Johnson's performance perfectly captures the character's roller-coaster of emotions | Source

Fun Facts

  • The film trailer they watch in the theatre is for "Flames Of Passion" based on the novel "Gentle Summer" by Alice Porter Stoughey. Neither of these exist in real life.
  • Carnforth station was chosen as the setting for the film because it was so far away from the south of England that there would be enough time during an air raid warning for the crew to turn out the lights and comply with the war-time blackout restrictions.
  • The cast and crew were given the day off on May 8th, 1945. Not only was it VE Day but the cameras being used for the film were required in London to cover the celebrations there.

What's not to like?

By the social standards of today, Brief Encounter does feel almost quaint in its innocence. If it were filmed these days, the film would take on the feel of something much more sordid and exploitative like Last Tango In Paris or the frankly pornographic 9 Songs. Thankfully, the film does have a refreshing sense of decency but the moral panic the characters go through feels a touch overblown to contemporary viewers. It almost feels like a soap opera.

I would have liked a bit more from the supporting cast, given that they feel surplus to requirements at times. Only Gregg's talkative busybody Mrs Messiter makes an impact on the story and even that is unintentional. The comic exchanges between Barton's tea-lady and Stanley Holloway's station guard are funny but they do break up the tension. However, there also provide a contrast to the relationship of the central characters - here are two other people who meet in the same place every day and flirt outrageously with each other but there is no spark between them. And quite frankly, picking holes in Brief Encounter feels wrong - it is often hailed as the greatest romantic film in history for a reason. It's magnificent.

The film uses lighting to magnificent effect, creating a noir-like atmosphere
The film uses lighting to magnificent effect, creating a noir-like atmosphere | Source

Should I watch it?

If you've never been in love then the movie might pass you by but for everybody else, Brief Encounter remains a stirring and emotional watch even today. It may well be a product of its time but the performances, direction, screenplay and score fit together perfectly to create an evocative, powerful and timeless fable about the perils of forbidden passion and the pressures of society. I heartily recommend this film to everyone - even cynics like me will be hopelessly bowled over by it.

Great For: romantics, steam train enthusiasts, adults, people snobby about black-and-white films

Not So Great For: hyperactive children, bored housewives

What else should I watch?

Given that I reckon Brief Encounter is the best romantic film ever made, that's quite a tall order. There are plenty of classic romantic movies to watch - From Here To Eternity and Casablanca are two that instantly spring to mind. The former won a staggering 8 Oscars at the Academy Awards that year while the latter has become synonymous with doomed love affairs and war-time patriotism. Both remain remarkable films to watch and blow away most of their modern equivalents with ease.

Of course, there are some decent romantic movies being made these days but few without the obligatory comedy or nudity. Films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind dares to try something very different while fluff like Love Actually and Notting Hill all stick to the same formula - in fact, the only film I can think of that acts as a proper romance is Sleepless In Seattle which has the novel feature of keeping the two leads apart for most of the film and deals with feelings of loneliness as well as love.

Main Cast

Celia Johnson
Laura Jesson
Trevor Howard
Dr Alec Harvey
Cyril Raymond
Fred Jesson
Everley Gregg
Dolly Messiter
Margaret Barton
Beryl Walters

Technical Info

David Lean
Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean & Ronald Neame *
Running Time
86 minutes
Release Date (UK)
26th November, 1945
PG (2005 re-rating)
Drama, Romance
Academy Award Nominations
Best Actress (Johnson), Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay

*based on the play "Still Life" by Noël Coward

© 2015 Benjamin Cox


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)