Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The first time I saw Brief Encounter, I saw it in a theatre; I was a teenager. I thought it was just about the best love story ever (okay, I was an overly romantic teenager). I hadn't seen it in years, though one of the lines kept coming back to me ("Go, you'll miss your train") and I could not remember what it was from. Six months ago I saw the movie again, and reclaimed the source of the line, and I've just watched it again. I couldn't remember why I'd rented it from Netflix again, and about ten minutes into it, I went "oh, yeah, now I know."
There are places in it 65 years later that seem kind of silly, in particular, the throbbing Rachmaninoff score. I really don't need to be told how to feel here- the other elements do it just fine. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are not pretty- they are both in their mid-thirties (and frankly, look a decade older), we can see their wrinkles, they look perfectly ordinary, which is the point. I never really think of Coward as a dramatic playwright- I think most of his dramas haven't aged well at all, while his songs and some of the comedies certainly have (I wish I'd seen Angela Lansbury do Madame Arcati). David Lean's direction is so restrained for this little story, and he gets such great performances out of his actors, as he did in Dr. Zhivago (was Omar Sharif ever so good before or since?), and Great Expectations (how can you not fall in love with Alec Guiness' Herbert Pocket?). The guilt and shame that the adulterous characters feel is so genuine it's palpable. The movie is still moving.