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Film / Brief Encounter

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A 1945 British drama film directed by David Lean, adapted by Noël Coward from his 1936 one-act play Still Life and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.

Laura (Johnson) is a suburban housewife in a rather dull marriage; one day, while waiting in the refreshment room of a train station, a doctor called Alec (Howard) helps her remove some grit from her eye. He is also married, but over time the two of them strike up a friendship, which blossoms into something more. But this being middle-class suburban Britain in the 1940s, they cannot possibly be together; Alec is called away for medical work in South Africa, and the two lovers are parted. The story is told In Medias Res from Laura's point of view after the pair separate as she travels home.

A 1974 Made-for-TV Movie adaptation starring Sophia Loren and Richard Burton aired on Hallmark Hall of Fame in the U.S.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The screenplay was adapted from Noël Coward's 1936 one-act (half-hour) stage play Still Life. It was expanded from five short scenes in a train station to include action in other settings.
  • Adaptation Title Change: Brief Encounter was adapted from Still Life.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: While reciprocated, they are both married and they both know it would only end badly.
  • Caught in the Rain: Laura gets caught in the rain on her way to Alec friend's apartment which prompts a modest Hanging Our Clothes to Dry situation in front of the fireplace.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Laura lights one up after she has to beat a hasty retreat from the apartment Alec's using, after the owner shows up.
  • Creator Cameo: That's Coward's voice as the train station announcer.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Laura and Alec don't get each other, but they both have partners they love.
  • Driven to Suicide: Laura goes to jump onto the train tracks when she ends her relationship with Alec but doesn't.
  • Dutch Angle: The camera tips into a sharp Dutch Angle when Laura gets the idea to throw herself onto the train tracks. When the moment passes and she doesn't do it, the camera angle straightens up again.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Alec and Laura separate at the end so the rest of the story is about their romance and how.
  • Happily Married: Both Laura and Alec.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The word "gay" is used at several occasion.
  • Held Gaze: Many.
  • Hero of Another Story: The stationmaster and the refreshment room manageress, who have their own flirtation going throughout the film.
  • Home-Early Surprise: Alec's friend returns home early because he felt a cold coming. It foils Alec and Laura's plan of a romantic evening in front of the fireplace. In her rush on the way out to the back, Laura forgets her scarf which tips Alec's friend off about her presence and causes a fallout between the two friends.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The opening title card identifies the movie as "Noel Coward's 'Brief Encounter'".
  • In Medias Res: The story starts out near the end with Laura and Alec separating, and the rest is Laura recounting their time together.
  • Leitmotif: Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto.
  • Meet Cute: Alec helps Laura remove from grit from her eye at the train station.
  • Moment Killer: Dolly Messiter is this trope personified—she interrupts Laura and Alec at the worst possible time.
  • Motor Mouth: Dolly, who just will not shut up. In one scene the camera shows a tight closeup of Dolly's lips flapping away while Laura thinks "I wish you'd stop talking."
  • Mouthscreen: There's a close up on Dolly Messiter's mouth as she talks to Laura on the train.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: The saleslady at the refreshment room cleans glasses in her first scene with Mr. Godby.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Laura and Alec didn't intend for it to become romantic, but it eventually does.
  • Once More, with Clarity: We see Laura and Alec's last encounter in the opening scene but it's not until the end of the movie when the scene is shown again that we grasp the full ramifications and tragedy of that scene.
  • Organ Grinder: Laura encounters one in the streets.
  • Romantic False Lead: Laura and Alec decide that they are this for each other and go back to their respective partners.
  • Second-Person Narration: A rare film example of this trope: Laura's narration is an imaginary monologue directed to her husband, whom she addresses as "you."
  • Sleeping Single: Maybe that's why Laura is so open to the attention of another man.
  • Spoiler Title: The movie title leaves no room for hope.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: How Alec and Laura separate, though nobody does any running (at least not the last time they separate).
  • You're Cute When You're Angry:
    Albert: "You look wonderful when you're angry... just like an avenging angel.