You may recognize David Lean’s name from famous movies such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984), as well as Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948). You are also probably familiar with Noël Coward, one of the most famous English playwrights of the 20th century.
Brief Encounter (1945) is based on a one-act, half-hour play of 1936 by Noël Coward, titled Still Life. It’s a story about love and convention in 1938 suburban London, filmed at a time when, post-WWII, women’s participation in the war effort was leading to a change in how women were seen and how they saw themselves. As a result, social mores were beginning to change. In fact, at a showing of the Brief Encounter in one suburban British cinema in 1945, one woman in the front row laughed at the restraint the lovers were showing, and other women further back in the cinema hall echoed her laugh. The producers worried that maybe the tone of Brief Encounter was outdated, already a thing of the past.
In fact, there’s such delicacy in the acting of the two protagonists that this movie will never get outdated. Celia Johnson’s facial expressions, redolent of silent movies (an observation that she herself made at the time the movie was shot), and the whole cinematic vocabulary of suppressed passion and doomed love turn Brief Encounter into a classic.