Truly, madly, briefly

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - DON­ALD CLARKE

BRIEF EN­COUNTER ★★★★★ Di­rected by David Lean. Star­ring Celia John­son, Trevor Howard, Stan­ley Hol­loway, Joyce Carey, Cyril Ray­mond, Ever­ley Gregg. Club, IFI, Dublin, 86 min

Is there any film that re­ceives more fre­quent suc­cess­ful re­vivals than David Lean’s Brief En­counter? Even the same di­rec­tor’s Lawrence of Ara­bia – for­ever be­ing re­vealed in ever-wider stocks – makes fewer ap­pear­ances than this fa­mously pinched ro­mance. The pic­ture turns 60 this month, but no ex­cuse is needed to re­join Celia John­son and Trevor Howard on the plat­form at Mil­ford Junc­tion (and, once again, re­mind our­selves that the film was orig­i­nally banned in Ire­land).

Ev­ery­one knows what hap­pens next. Sur­pris­ingly lit­tle.

The cou­ple have a few hur­ried meals and take a nice trip to the cin­ema. (“The uni­verse [could] go up in flames, and the world crash around us, but there will al­ways be Don­ald Duck.”) The most ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment ar­rives when Howard takes John­son back to his flat where they are sur­prised by an out­raged and dis­ap­prov­ingly camp Valen­tine Dyall. In later years, Lean laughed at the no­tion – put about by those mad French crit­ics – that the flat­mates might be gay. The sug­ges­tion now seems close to in­escapable.

For all its coy in­ac­tiv­ity, Brief En­counter, adapted from a short play by Noel Coward, man­aged to spawn its own sub-genre. Such projects as Be­fore Sun­set and Lost in Trans­la­tion have taken the struc­ture – de­scribed suc­cinctly in the ti­tle – in all sorts of un­ex­pected di­rec­tions.

Yet there re­mains some­thing time­less about the orig­i­nal model. The no­tion (be­com­ing rare, even in 1945) of two peo­ple shut off from hap­pi­ness by the stric­tures of so­ci­ety re­mains im­pos­si­bly poignant.

And then there is the mis­er­ab­list bril­liance of the script. Whole chunks of Coward’s di­a­logue play like ex­cerpts from lost Smiths songs. “If you’d die, you’d for­get me. I want to be re­mem­bered.” La la la! “Isn’t it aw­ful about peo­ple mean­ing to be kind?” Sing, sing, sing. “We were very gay dur­ing lunch and talked about quite or­di­nary things.” And so on.

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