Brief Encounter (1945)

Brief Encounterbrief encounter poster
Directed by David Lean
Written by Anthony Havelock-Allen, David Lean, and Ronald Neame from the play “Still Life” by Noel Coward (all uncredited)
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
#191 of 1001 Film You Must See Before You Die


Laura Jesson: I’ve fallen in love. I didn’t think such violent things happened to ordinary people.

I didn’t realize how brief the encounter really was until I watched this small masterpiece for the umpteenth time.

The story mainly takes place in flashback as Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) sits in her living room and thinks about the man she just said goodbye to while her husband does the crossword.  A recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is playing in the background.

It’s a simple story.  Laura goes to the nearest town every Thursday to do errands and watch a movie.  Laura meets Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard)  when he removes a piece of grit in her eye in a railway station tearoom.    The next Thursday she gives him a seat at her table in a crowded restaurant and they go to the movies together.  He asks her to meet him the following week.


After vowing not meet him, Laura is there.  The movie is bad so they take an outing on the river instead.  It is then that Alec confesses his love and Laura cannot deny hers.  The following week Alec has borrowed a friend’s car and they go driving.  At the end of the day, Alec says he is going to skip the train and wait for Laura in his friend’s empty apartment.  Laura cannot stay away.  But the guilt and shame is too much for her and she needs to find the strength to call things quits.  With Stanley Holloway as the station master who is flirting with Joyce Carey’s tearoom operator.


Why can’t love be simple?  Lean and the actors make you care about these people so much that the very British and restrained sexual tension is palpable.  We can understand every move they make and root for their love while at the same time understanding why it is all wrong.  The cinematography and frame composition is as beautiful as the story.  Most highly recommended.

Brief Encounter was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Re-release trailer

6 thoughts on “Brief Encounter (1945)

  1. I like this film a lot. It’s very tender and tentative, which makes me like these characters all the more. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend In the Mood for Love, which has a very similar romance, one that seems to borrow from Lean’s film a great deal. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t like it.

  2. This is one of those times that knowing too much about the history of movies hurt my appreciation for this film. Going in I had absolutely no doubt on whether these two were going to get together or not simply from the time period the movie was made in and what kind of story would be allowed. I think that that subconsciously kept me from getting too involved with the characters. I still like this film, but I don’t love it as much as other people I know.

    And just to show that I’m nothing if not inconsistent, I liked In the Mood for Love quite a bit. Part of that is probably that I was in suspense about what was going to happen. In addition, there was always the concept that the two were perhaps more playacting at love, imagining what their cheating spouses were doing.

    • I guess there was no suspense, really, now that you mention it. It was the emotions of the characters as they lived with the reality of the situation that got to me.

  3. What I really love about this movie is that it is an adult movie showing adults. The concerns are real, the feelings are real, the consequences are real and the two of them are adult enough to face them and consider them. I have so much respect for the characters and that is for me a rare thing to have for married folks having an affair. The best movie of the year, top ten for the decade.

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