Brief Encounter

This wonderful film, based on a play by Noel Coward, dates back to 1945 and was made in the closing days of the Second World War. It’s widely regarded as one of the best British films of all time, and it isn’t hard to see why. While the main story is clearly about the forbidden love between Alec (Trevor Howard) and Laura (Celia Johnson), the supporting cast is wonderful and has some fantastically comedic lines, especially the slightly terrifying lady in charge of the refreshment room. Personally, I love the film for several reasons – it’s a glimpse into a world that has vanished, it’s beautifully made, superbly performed, and it’s a romance on a railway station! Given that I met and fell for my wife on a railway station, it has a certain personal relevance (although I’d like to point out that neither of us was cheating on anyone).

Anyway, a major part of the film is the score, largely taken from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2. It’s wonderful music that works extremely well, although given the age of the film, the sound quality is not great and the music tends to be a bit tinny and flat in its reproduction. I therefore jumped at the chance to not only see the film on the big screen, but also experience it with the music performed live! Last Friday, as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival, the film was shown at the Usher Hall with the music performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The combination of the beautiful venue, great seats, big screen and breathtaking performance was magical. I’ve never been to a film with live music before, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but they had a version of the film with the music removed from the soundtrack, and the skill of the musicians in playing parts of the pieces at just the right times was considerable. There were a number of lovely touches too, including the performance of the two jingles at the beginning, and at a point where Laura is fantasising about being at the opera and talks about the orchestra tuning up…the orchestra tuned up!

It made me appreciate anew just how many elements have gone into making this such a good film, and hearing the music in such wonderful clarity made me understand just how much it contributes to the atmosphere.

The railway station scenes were shot at Carnforth, in the north-west of England, although the refreshment room interior was a set (closely modelled on the real one at Carnforth). Since the film was shot all those years ago, the station has shrunk in size a bit – a couple of the platforms have been demolished – but much of it is still recognisable. The ramped approaches to the platforms are still there, the canopies on the platforms are still in place, and – perhaps most importantly – the refreshment room is still there too! It’s been restored to very closely resemble the way it looked in the film, and it’s almost enough to make you want to ask if the Bath buns are fresh! The street scenes were mainly shot in Buckinghamshire and the London suburbs, and although they were filmed long before I was born in 1974, it does somehow remind me of the way a lot of things looked when I was a kid.

Of the main cast members, only Margaret Barton is still alive these days – she plays Beryl, the young assistant in the refreshment room, and she’s now 92 years old! I’m guessing the actors who played Laura’s children might still be around too, but I can’t find any information on them. Plenty of cast members were around until I’d appeared in this world, though – Stanley Holloway, the ticket inspector, was well into his eighties when he died.

If you haven’t seen the film before, find yourself a spare hour and half and watch it via the link to YouTube in this post – unless you’re a crass Philistine with a heart of stone, I doubt you’ll regret it. 🙂

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