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Old 10th Nov 2008, 11:30   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Brief Encounter

We are attending a Brief Encounter-themed party in a couple of weeks, so it was about time to see the film (for the first time). Its iconic status as one of the most romantic, classic, weepy films of all time makes it quite difficult to approach in some respects; in other respects Mr Col and I amused ourselves playing “Brief Encounter Bingo”, mentally ticking boxes every time Joyce Carey exclaimed something about her Chelsea buns, or Laura declaimed “oh, Alec!” in clipped tones. The poignancy of the separated lovers, the near-tragedy of Laura dashing out to throw herself before the express train, the moving stolid but unromantic loving of husband Fred who seeks to comfort Laura’s distress without knowing exactly what is wrong – there is greatness in the story, however slight its plot might be, but it is very hard to see past the now extreme RP accents without them seeming farcical.

No-one can fault the cinematography, the scene-setting between the bustle of Boots the chemist-and-lending-library or the station platforms and the sedate refreshment rooms of the station where in between worlds, as it were, things can happen, possibilities can be pursued. The real world intervenes even here though – the opening ten minutes where the painful intrusion of Dolly Messiter ruins the final moments of Laura and Alec’s time together, are as much of a train wrecker as anything happening on the platform outside, Dolly’s voluble inane chatter replacing the buckling of rails and squealing brakes.

I’m sure Noel Coward would have expected me to feel more sympathy for the lovers than I did, but I’m unsure. Alec seems to me a thoroughly reprehensible fellow, with no clear plan as to how their affair might affect either of their families at home. The film gives us great insight from the voiceover into Laura’s pained distress at the lies and deception she has to bear for the sake of the passionate moments she shares with Alec: she’s like a quivering wide-eyed deer about to be hit by a truck most of the time, and like the deer after the truck has hit in the final frames. But Alec hardly shows any shame or guilt whatsoever but for when his friend Steven is decidedly unimpressed at his flat being used for their liaison, and he looks a little awkward. Laura’s daydreams of what their life would be like if they were free to be together, is decidedly unrealistic. I guess I found their love unconvincing because we saw so little of their time together, other than joking around in boats and cinemas, and their connectedness seemed so divorced from the realities of life: of ongoing social engagement with the rest of the world, with continuing parenting of children or dedicated doctoring (he keeps taking Thursday afternoons off!) How long would their romance have lasted had they pursued it and would losing everything else have pretty much ruined their relationship?

I was glad Laura returned to Fred, although unhappy at the loss of this passion in her life. It was a encounter that revitalised her life briefly, but with Fred she has someone who loves her, albeit it in unfussy boring fashion, the “only one who would understand” – which surely counts for something. I could imagine Alec having a fling with someone else once he was installed in his practice in Johannesburg but for Laura it was life-changing and must have felt like an earthquake had shook her foundations.

The minor players are perfectly cast – lots of character actors: Irene Handl, Joyce Carey and Stanley Holloway (hysterically funny over the cakes and pastries counter) and Valentine Dyall, pre-H2G2 and Dr Who.

A day away from watching it, and I’m inclined to up my star rating from (good but not great) to . The look and feel of the film is marvellous, the sounds, the music, the visuals, even the story, the bit parts (brilliant Dolly Messiter!), but the dated accents make the emotional repression and the ways in which things couldn’t be said out loud, very difficult to engage with. I wonder what a younger audience would make of it.



(Now to find a hat for the party to match this one

or perhaps I should go as Irene Handl...)
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 12:28   #2
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

Nice review Col,

I have to say that in my younger days (probably 10 years ago now, if not more) I watched Brief Encounter and was so thoroughly annoyed and frustrated by it that I have rolled my eyes at every subsequent mention of it. I suspect I may have mellowed a bit, but I still remember being basically bored by the whole thing.

Sounds like a fun party though, I like movie themes.
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 13:40   #3
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

Like Digger, I find myself unable to care a great deal about this film - more through laughter than apathy, mind. It's just so terribly terribly restrained. I know it's supposed to be tragic and all, but I just find myself swearing at them rather than weeping for them.

Anyway, what was the name of the couple of lovers in Round The Horne? They were clearly a take off of the two in this film, and a good deal more entertaining.

EDIT: Ahh yes - Fiona and Charles.

Quote:
Charles: "I know."
Fiona: "I know you know."
Charles: "I know you know I know."
Fiona: "Yes, I know."
Also:

Quote:
Charles: "I was certain, positive, convinced and doctrinaire, and yet... unsure."
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 13:44   #4
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

well...I think it's a fab film!
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 13:46   #5
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

It's jolly good in my opinion - but perhaps one has to be a certain age to appreciate it. I'm also pretty sure those accents are a bit alienating to many Scots.
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 13:46   #6
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

I think it sounds fab, especially because of the restraint shown and the period piece nature of the film. Sometimes in these old films, lots more is said and shown than we get nowadays. I'll take some squeaky wheels and inane chatter to perfectly symbolize an ending any day! Less is more, doncha think?
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 13:51   #7
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

It sounds facile to go on about the accents being so much to the detriment of the film but the prim way of speaking in the film (besides making you laugh) really disables an easy way into appreciating the way the characters are unable to express their emotions because of the times and their 'civilised' way of being. It's easy to say "forget the silly voices and really *listen* to what they're saying and what they're not saying; and how awful that they can't really say what they want to" but it's not so easy to do. You have to override that impulse to chuckle to enjoy the film properly - because it is great in so many ways - but it's damn near impossible!
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 13:52   #8
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

I know people who still speak like that!
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 13:53   #9
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

Oh, I know one or two, true, but I found it hard to feel a great degree of empathy for the characters here because of that stiltedness.
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Old 10th Nov 2008, 14:07   #10
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Default Re: Brief Encounter

Personally, I ADORE the way they speak. But I know from growing up in Scotland that accents like that were very alienating, belonging to the oppressor and all thet, y'know.
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