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Brief Encounter: The Criterion Collection

Adapted by Noel Coward from his own one-act play "Still Life," David Lean's 1946 Brief Encounter, his fourth film, is a small study in character with essentially just two roles. Set in 1938 England, happily married Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) has been going about the business of being a loyal wife and dedicated mother for many years, but when she accidentally meets handsome Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) at a train station one afternoon, the chance encounter soon becomes a regularly scheduled series of Thursday afternoon assignations, as the charismatic Alec, apparently trapped in a loveless marriage, showers Celia with a sort of affection she has never known. Narrated by Laura (via a very clever framing device), Coward's tale concentrates on her varying emotional states (she dreams of traveling the world with her handsome suitor in a Bovary-esque fantasy), and how her desire to abandon all of her responsibilities is constantly tempered by a firm grounding in reality. Aware that she has a good husband and two children, and that such things cannot be squandered lightly, Laura's inner monologues transform Brief Encounter from a bittersweet love story to a tale of creeping insanity, and it is only in the final moments that we realize just how far adrift the affair has taken her. Criterion's DVD edition of Brief Encounter, adapted from their 1995 Laserdisc, features a good transfer from a digitally restored print in the original 1.33:1, while audio is in the original mono. Features include a commentary by film historian Bruce Eder, a restoration demonstration, the original theatrical trailer, and English subtitles. Fans of both Lean and Coward will want to have this disc in their collections, and even if this classic love story tends to skew towards women viewers, all film buffs should give it a look as it was voted by the British Film Institute to be the second-greatest British film of all time (just ahead of Lean's Lawrence of Arabia).

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