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The film "Brief Encounter" and Old Fashioned Values. Did Noel Coward's classic ,"Brief Encounter", teach us something?

Updated on September 17, 2012

Sometimes love just can't develope.

Love doesnt always "Find a way".
Love doesnt always "Find a way".

Brief Encounter. The story of a love that was not to be.

When people write about great films, the ones that often get the most mention are the epics, or the famous action movies. We can all remember the fright we felt when we first saw "Jaws", or the horror of "The Exorcist".

Those of us who are old enough remember the thrills of the chariot race in "Ben Hur", and in more recent years the blockbuster "Titanic" seems to have caught the public's immagination.
But if someone were to ask me what the greatest film was that I have ever seen, I would tell them about a simple black and white production that was made in the nineteen forties, that had a cast of about ten, and that had it's most iconic scene set in an old fashioned british railway cafe.

I am of course referring to the classic "Brief Encounter", that homage to the old fashioned virtue of marital fidelity surviving under strain, and the unsettling effect that an exciting stranger can have on the heart of even the most respectable suburban housewife.

"Brief Encounter" The story.

The film, "Brief Encounter", was based on a play by Noel Coward, and starred Celia Johnson, as a wife married to an amiable, but boring husband.
Once a week she used to go up to town to shop and see a movie. This was her only break from the routine of her, rather humdrum existence.
One evening, when she had just alighted from her train, she got into a slight difficulty when some grit got into her eye. A handsome stranger assisted her, and they went for some tea afterwards.
Her "knight in shining armour" turned out to be a locum doctor who came to her town once a week. He was played by that great english actor Trevor Howard. They got on so well, that they arranged to meet on subsequent occasions.
After a few meetings they fell madly in love with each other.

They started to have furtive meetings, where they would go for meals, or take long walks on the beach, but they were terrified all the time, lest some family or friend might see them together.
Eventually the desire to be really close got the better of them both, and the doctor borrowed the keys of his friend's flat, so that they could consummate the relationship.

But things did not go very well. The friend arrived home unexpectably, and he made quite a fuss about the "misuse" of his flat.
The couple decided that they would have to part, as neither one of them wanted to hurt their respective families.

Their final meeting took place in the same railway cafe where they first got to know each other. He was emigrating to South Africa, so they would never come across each other again.
But in one of those excruciating twists, that make the difference between a good story and a truly great one, their last chance to be together is spoiled by this awful gossipy woman, who joins them at their table, and insists in regaling them both with the details of her boring life, when all they want to do is to gaze in each others eyes for the last time.
The result is, that when they long to give each other one last passionate kiss, all that can happen is that he gives her a surreptitious squeeze on the shoulder.

In deep despair she almost throws herself under a train. But, her sense of duty to her family, means that she goes home to her husband, and tries to pick up the thread of her, almost shattered, life.

Is there a lesson for us in the film "Brief Encounter?

There are some universal truths to be gleaned from this film, although some of them can only be speculated about.
Did she end up with a happy marriage. She put fidelity over romance. That was the right thing to do. I only hope she got her reward.
How did he get on in South Africa? Did he find a new love? He deserved to.

One of the most striking things about this production is the music.
The director cleverly weaves in the incomparably romantic music of Rachmaninov's second piano concerto.
The film is worth seeing for the score alone.

The entire story brings us back to an era that is really past now. The notion that someone might reject romance with an exciting stranger, because they considered fidelity to a worthy, but unexciting spouse, to be more important, seems to be hopelessly old fashioned in the twenty first century. But is it really such an outdated concept?
That is the question we must all ask ourselves, when temptation comes knocking.

Love and redemption?

The perfect music for this story.


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    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      I,ve not seen it yet, but it is definetely on my list of "to do's".

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      Have you seen the king's speech yet? If not, why not, it's brilliant! Geoffrey Rush was very unlucky at the Oscars.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Hi Keith.

      I havent seen "The Remains of the day", but after your recommendation, I'll make an effort to see it.

      Anthony Hopkins is a brilliant actor.

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      Hi Chris, i've got vague recollections of what i did yesterday, never mind old movies, but i do remember the cafe scene a weensie bit. they had lots of character actors in the good old days, like the gossipy woman for example, who were as good as the stars. i can't put any capitals in as i'm eating two dockers sandwiches as i'm typing. rackwhatshisface is brilliant. my mate joseph can play his music flawlessly and even a blockyed like me is impressed. he had massive hands, i do too, but the -astards keep turning up late for work. my favourite not that old movie is the remains of the day where anthony hopkins plays the butler. an incredible performance, as was the rest of the cast too. must dash. Cheers mate.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks Trish for that nice comment.

      RJ you probably did see it on tv years ago. They used to always show those good old films on television; but they dont seem to do it so much nowadays.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 6 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Hmm... I'm wondering if I may have seen the entire film 30-40 years ago. The title and the main story line don't sound like much, so I would probably passs by it on a cable channel. Not so now. Steve Martin did a film the "Girl behind the counter" (or something like that)based on his short story. IT sounded dull, but in that Steve stared in it I gave it a chance and it turned out to be a gem, much like the Brief Encounter. For me, it shows that touching stories can pop up anywhere. RJ

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Definitely a lovely film, with lovely music :)

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks R J for the compliments.

      I think you underestimate your own talents. Your writing is always "spot on".

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 6 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      This made my day! I love your synopsis and then wanted to see the movie, particularly the big scene and there it was! This is truely beautiful and I needed to see the clip twice too. Yes, the music brings it together. You have brought a true gem to my attention here. I love the classics like this. Seeing anything like this is always an inspiration to me and one can only hope that such wonderful artistic expression would pour forth from one's own writing one day. RJ

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks drbj.

      I guessed you might like that one.

      Rachmaninoff no two is one of my all time favourites as well.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      I never had the pleasure of seeing this film but I wanted to thank you, Christopher, for including the Rachmaninoff Concerto - one of my all-time favorites. This beautiful music would greatly enhance any film.