To most, having to have grit removed from one's eyes is not the best circumstance under which to make an acquaintance. But for Celia Johnson's Laura, this is how, on a railway station, she meets dashing doctor Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). The two form a friendship that soon becomes more than platonic. Despite their love for each other, their relationship is never consummated. Caught in such a bad romance, they realise that due to social rules and their commitments to their family, the tempting option of running away together is simply impossible.
The fact that the title gives away the fact that Laura and Alec's romance is short lived does not detract from the poignancy and power of their brief time spent with each other. Although the two do not sleep together, there is no doubt of their desire to do so, making their restrain even more admirable (the scene in which they are interrupted by a prying friend was extremely frustrating when I first watched the film but now I see that it fits perfectly with the themes of social decorum and doing what is right rather than what we want).
Many things make Brief Encounter the gem it is, but two things stand out. The first is the usage of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto . There have been films which have been ruined by the terrible music in them, and others wherein the music is either so good or so bombastic that it deflects attention away from the film. In Brief Encounter, the elegaic piano tune complements the film perfectly. Used throughout, it evokes the emotions that Laura is feeling in us. And the second? Why, that would be Celia Johnson's exquisitely beautiful performance as the housewife who looks for an exciting, new thing in her life, only to realise that when all is said and done, however exciting, however much it thrills her, she cannot throw away what she already has. As Alec places his hand over Laura's shoulder as they say their goodbyes, tears never fail to come to my eyes. Brief Encounter is as deep and British a film as they come.