Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter typifies a very particular type of Britishness that no longer exists. This is a Britain of stiff upper lip and quiet reserve. Perhaps it was the fact that this 1945 film was made during the Second World War that lent it this "Keep Calm and Carry On" feel.

The film was based on the Noel Coward play Still Life, in which two married people embark on a secret love affair. This is no tawdry affair, however; it's a brief, beautiful and bittersweet escape from the stifling mundanity of their lives. Laura (played by Celia Johnson) is Brief Encounter's narrator; she is married to Fred Jesson, and the couple have two small children. The highlight of Laura's week is her trip to the fictional Milford to do her weekly shopping and see a matinée film. One day, whilst waiting for a train at Milford Junction Station, a "smut" gets into Laura's eye. She goes into the refreshment room to seek help, and here Alec (Trevor Howard), the other protagonist, is introduced. He offers assistance, the two start chatting, and therein the love story unfolds.

Eventually the couple realise that they cannot betray their spouses and continue with the affair any longer. Their final meeting is marred by the interruption of an acquaintance of Laura's, who babbles incessantly while the two struggle to contain their feelings. Alec's train arrives and he leaves without being able to say a proper goodbye. As the train pulls away, Laura dashes out onto the platform, and for a moment it seems she will end her life. However, she dutifully returns to her husband and family. The film ends with its most famous and melodramatic speech (one which was re-enacted in The History Boys); Laura has been lost in her thoughts of Alec and what might have been. Her husband, Fred, realising that something has been amiss, says "You've been a long way away. (...) Thank you for coming back to me."

The film has been adapted for the stage by Kneehigh Theatre, a company I originally wanted to complete my CEP with.

This introduction by the director of the production, Emma Rice, is well worth a read.

I have chosen to embroider pieces based on Brief Encounter as much of my own writing deals with the idea of stiff upper lip and what it is to be British, together with thwarted love. In addition to the embroidery of the train on the handkerchief in the previous post, you can expect a sewn portrait of Celia Johnson and possibly one of Trevor Howard, accompanied by original writing on the theme of Brief Encounter.

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