Plot: What’s it about?
Sometimes no matter doomed something seems to be, we will keep pushing it just because we want it to work, but we know it won’t. Such is the case with Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), who crossed paths simply by chance and their lives were never the same again. The two first met at a train station and though this wasn’t a planned meeting, it struck a certain chord within each of them to be sure. Of course Alec is a doctor and has a busy lifestyle, but Laura is a housewife and has little to pass the time with overall. Both of these people have previous lives and current spouses, yet something draws them together that neither of them can seem to overcome. Despite their marital vows and such, the two begin to fall in love and soon enough, romance and list have shown up on the scene. After a while, they start to meet on a very regular basis and though both know it will never work, they still spend time together. Laura and Alec might have met by pure chance, but who knows what the future might hold them, alone or together…
I think the films of David Lean qualify as must see materials for the film buffs out there, but they also hold much interest from casual film fans also. Lean’s movies seem to satisfy on several levels and perhaps that’s why they stand up so well, even after so many years. Brief Encounter is a perfect example of that idea, as you can find such depth and complex structure within the movie, but also just watch and be pleased on a simple, surface level. This gives the film such high replay value to me and as such, I can’t imagine a fan not wanting to own this one, to watch over and again. Criterion has issued this film as disc number seventy-six in their series and even spruced up the audio and video in the process. This means Brief Encounter looks and sounds better than ever and in the case of the visuals, I was very impressed. To get an idea of what the difference a restoration can make, check out the disc’s demonstration piece, you’ll understand then. A couple cool bonus features even show up, not too bad for an overall package deal. I highly recommend this movie and if you at all have the means, this is the medium you should explore it on. Another tremendous disc from the fine folks at Criterion!
Even though terrific work is shown here by director David Lean and actor Trevor Howard, I think Brief Encounter belongs to Celia Johnson. Her name might not be as recognizable as that of Julia Roberts or Marilyn Monroe, but she lights up the screen in this film and steals the show from under some very talented workers. She even in that many films and this was only her fifth motion picture, but Johnson seems like a seasoned veteran here. I simply cannot imagine another person in her place here, I think even the most gifted females would fall just short of her performance. Johnson also appeared in such films as The Astonished Heart, A Letter From Home, In Which We Serve, and The Captain’s Paradise. Opposite Johnson in this movie is Trevor Howard, who also gives a solid turn though not as powerful as Celia’s work. Howard (Superman, The Sea Wolves) is still a terrific actor though and he serves as an asset to this picture. The cast also includes Joyce Carey (Loser Takes All), Cyril Raymond (Mixed Doubles), and Stanley Holloway (Run A Crooked Mile). Behind the camera here is master filmmaker David Lean, who adds yet another classic to his resume. This might not be his finest work, but it still packs an emotional punch and is more than worth a look, to be sure. Other Lean films include Great Expectations (1946), Oliver Twist (1948), Summertime, Lawrence Of Arabia, and The Bridge On The River Kwai.
Video: How does it look?
Brief Encounter is presented in a full frame transfer, which preserves the original aspect ratio of the film. This is an amazing visual transfer and once again, doubters should take a gander at the included restoration demonstration on the disc. The bulk of grain, debris, and damage has been removed from the source print, leaving behind a very sharp and clean image to soak up. As if that isn’t enough, the contrast is also dead on in this transfer, with no problems in the least. I found no evidence of detail loss and the black levels seem well balanced at all times. Thanks to Criterion and their extensive restoration, we can all have a fantastic version of this classic to own and cherish.
Audio: How does it sound?
Some restoration work was also done on the audio and while I am unsure how much, I do know that this track sounds very good. The original mono track was used for this disc and while mono is limited in range, this material doesn’t need much in terms of audio power or impact. The music sounds clear and free from distortion, which is impressive for a movie of this age (1946). No traces of problems with dialogue either, as the vocals sound natural and very crisp at all times. The train whistles and various other sound effects also sound good here, no serious flaws to discuss in the end. This disc also features optional English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I already mentioned the restoration demonstration and while some might not claim this to be a true supplement, I am pleased Criterion has included it on this disc. It gives us a chance to see how much work was done and also makes us appreciate this glorious transfer that much more. You’ll also find color bars, the film’s theatrical trailer, and an audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder. Talk about an informative track, this one is loaded with so much insight and such, my head was spinning at times. Eder gives the film a historical glance and also talks about how the film is often overlooked. Now, if we could just get this much stuff on all the discs from Criterion…