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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

The Impossible Dream

Brief Encounter (1945) on IMDb

Plot Overview

At the Milford train station, trains come and go. In the tea-room station master Albert Godby (Stanley Holloway) is regaling Myrtle Bagot (Joyce Carey) the woman in charge of the refresh­ment area about “a bit of a dust-up” in which he forced a first class passenger to pony up the higher fare who had tried to pass him­self off as travel­ling third class. Shame! It is evident these two have a thing going though it appears to be ending soon. Seated at a nearby table is a house­wife (“I'm a happily married woman … or I was, rather, until a few weeks ago”) and mother Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) along with one Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) an “ordinary GP” to be joined by a brash acquaintance of the former, one Dolly Messiter (Everley Gregg) “chattering away nine­teen to a dozen.” As the good doctor departs on one train and the two women on another, it dawns on us that Laura and the doc were also having a brief fling, but theirs was of a higher class than that of the station workers, the difference being it had a higher emotional cost to breaking up.

As Laura narrates and we follow her story we also hear in passing salacious repartee between Bagot and Godby indicating the lower class affair had more sex, the higher class more guilt. “Brief Encounter” treads on a sympathetic treatment of Laura and the doctor's plight and what they decide to do.


The drama of “Brief Encounter” is of a pair getting into hot water incrementally. When Dr. Harvey treated Laura for a minor medical emergency at the station (“That's how it all began”), it was completely innocent. Another day when all the seats were taken in the tea-room and he asked his new acquaintance if he could join her, and she agreed, again it's all above­board. They engage in easy conversation, he accompanies her to the Palladium for a movie, they get cozy, walk out arm in arm, and she braces her­self with a brandy after­wards. When we see her eyeing “the clergy­man in the opposite corner” on her way home, we wonder if perhaps he's reading from his book, (Sirach 9:9) “Sit not at all with another man's wife, nor sit down with her in thine arms, and spend not thy money with her at the wine; lest thine heart incline unto her, and so through thy desire thou fall into destruction,” or how many more rendez­vous it will take to get to the point where, (Jer. 23:14) “they commit adultery, and walk in lies.”

What propels them in that direction is, “I've fallen in love with you.” Psychiatrist Paul Dobransky, M.D. in The Secret Psychology of How We Fall In Love, deals with it as mutually shared positive emotional energy as in friend­ship combined with the spark of physical attraction. Laura describes her emotions first by defining terms. When she splurges on an expensive gift for her husband Fred (Cyril Raymond), she says, “Having committed the crime I felt suddenly reck­less and gay.” In 1945 when this movie came out gay would have meant simply, as she says, “I felt suddenly quite wildly happy.” That's the term she applies to her developing feelings for Alec: “We had such fun I felt gay and happy and sort of released,” and “We were very gay during lunch and talks about quite ordinary things.” Here she was simulating with Alec both the special celebrations customary between husband and wife, like anni­ver­saries, (Isaiah 62:5) “the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride,” and the day to day gaiety a happily married couple engages in, to (Eccl. 9:9) “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy life.” With Fred, how­ever, it was nothing but dulls­ville he being an unremarkable appendage at, say, a mandatory Christmas celebration, or a stick-in-the-mud at home with his cross­word puzzle. His only show of promise was suggesting fun birth­day celebrations for their two children.

In their married couple repartee, he facetiously suggested a career goal of the Navy for their young son, “He'll be able to see the world and have a wife in every port.” In 1945, of course, marriage would have meant a union between one man and one woman. If as this 1945 movie suggests, a remedy and/or cure for infidelity might include making it a gay1945 marriageman-woman, we might want to check that against current terminology to be sure some­thing isn't lost in the trans­lation. Up until 2003 when Massachusetts by judicial fiat legalized same-sex marriage—The Netherlands came a bit earlier—, it would have been unthink­able for two men to marry each other, or for two women, so the dyad "gay marriage" would have retained its gay1945 marriageman-woman meaning of this movie. Massachusetts was quickly followed by a host of New England (& NY & DC) areas of historical Puritan influence. I've discussed the ramifications in my review of “Ted 2” set in Boston, Mass. Since by Puritan belief marriage was a civil arrangement only, this marriagePuritan equivalence civil union equivalence domestic partnership. All across the country from there states have by legislature or popular vote defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman, only to be often thwarted by judicial ruling against excluding same-sex couples. The state of Washing­ton voted to restrict marriage to hetero­sexual unions, but then voted a second time for "marriage equality," its proponents having out­spent the heteros eleven to one to squeak by. They then grand­fathered domestic partners under age 65 into spouses making their "marriages" equivalent to domestic partner­ships after all. Finally, in 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the states' bans against same-sex marriage was pseudo-unconsti­tutional—marriage isn't actually mentioned in the Constitution. There­fore marriagelegal must include homos, but marriagepop still excludes them, the state constitutions banning them having remained unchanged though unenforceable. The legal terminology will not employ the term gay for homo­sexual, because it is too vague. Lawyers like more precise but longer words. For the sake of this review, then, the dyad "gaypop marriage" means "gaypop marriageman-woman" equivalence "gay1945 marriageman-woman," same as in the movie. I am not offering commen­tary on marriagelegal.

Quoting from the “Catholic Sentinel” of July 3, 2015 (15):

The main opinion recognized in several places the role of religious beliefs in the questions surrounding same-sex marriage. Kennedy said toward the conclusion of his 28-page opinion that “it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

The First Amendment ensures protection for religious organizations and individuals as they seek to teach the principles “that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,” he continued, and to “their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”

This movie “Brief Encounter” brings a scriptural injunction of having a daily, continuing joyous marriage into the vernacular of calling it a "gay marriage." Those who want to use the term gay in conjunction with marriage to refer to a homo­sexual union can still say "gay and lesbian marriage" thereby contextualizing it. They've been out­voted in the popular arena of usage about "gay marriage," the single votes of the people judges not amounting to a hill of beans. Other movies I've reviewed reflect this common usage of gay marriage, as well as on other sites.

Production Values

Brief Encounter” (1945) was directed by David Lean. It is based on a one-act play called “Still Life” (1936) from “Tonight at 8:30,” which was written by British play­wright and actor Sir Noël Coward and adapted for the screen by Anthony Havelock-Allan, Ronald Neame and its producer Noël Coward. It stars Celia John­son, Trevor Howard, and Stanley Hollo­way. Celia Johnson, not an actress by trade (she was the sister-in-law of famed novelist Ian Fleming), really carries the film. Her delivery comes across natural and believ­able. Johnson and Howard weren't beautiful Hollywood types, but that lends credi­bility to the film. They were both hand­some, how­ever, Johnson with her doe eyes and Howard with his chiseled features. Also appearing in the film are Joyce Carey as Myrtle Bagot, Marjorie Mars as Mary Norton and Margaret Barton as Beryl Walters, Tea Room Assistant. Their acting is fine too. The supporting cast is all excellent.

This unrated UK picture with its sympathetic attitude towards marital infidelity could not have passed muster in Holly­wood at the time. The U.S. Production Code then in effect (aka the Hays Code) prohibited the portrayal of adulterous relations that were “explicitly treated, or justified, or presented attractively.” There is, how­ever, no sex in it, or nudity, or sensuality for that matter, just some mild innuendo, so I suppose it would be the equivalent of PG today. It's shot in Black and White with a relatively square aspect ratio of 1.37 : 1. It presents Sergei Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto to advantage. Robert Krasker's black-and-white photog­raphy of the steam trains is particu­larly striking taking on a symbolic aura seeming to stand for the comings and goings of fleeting romance. This film is a master­piece of acting, mood, lighting, editing and photography.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

A British poll once picked “Brief Encounter” as the best movie romance of all time. There is some­thing special about it, I must say. It's a sublime picture and one I urge you all to watch.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with parental guidance. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.