40. “Brief Encounter”, David Lean (1945)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter

dir. David Lean scr. Noel Coward, Anthony Havelock-Ailan, David Lean, Ronald Neame based on the play Still Life by Noel Coward cin. Robert Krasker with Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey, Cyril Raymond, Everley Gregg, and Margaret Barton

In 100 words: Lean’s magnum opus has a narrative structure bookended by one scene framed from two different perspectives: the first scene serving to make the latter scene devastating. The rest of the film is from Laura’s internal confession, which comments and condemns and later justifies her actions as they take place. Howard and Johnson are a match made in heaven and I love that we see how quickly they fall deeply in love and the internal conflict they face as the inevitable comes. Bless Lean for never really getting in their way, save for a few excellent stylistic risks and choice edits.

Other Movies for Context: Certainly one of the greatest romances of film history, and one that makes adultery feel less awful than it actually is. I can only think of one other movie that so successfully made adultery feel okay and that’s The Bridges of Madison County (1995), which is basically a more modern take on this movie, with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. One can also see the inspiration behind Carol (2015) from this one, with the narrative structure being super similar.

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