Realism, and not a kitchen sink in sight.
, 31 Dec 2012
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
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I've just seen this film for the first time and couldn't get over how true to life it is. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard both give such astonishing performances, and the film very quietly and cleverly manages to avoid being pigeonholed. Brief Encounter isn't a romance (despite what the Times crossword might have to say). There is nothing romantic about the painfully realistic way mundane, everyday life keeps intruding at every turn. The protagonists of 'Flames of Passion' won't have their final goodbyes not just interrupted, but steamrollered by 'gossiping acquaintances they don't care for'; won't find that they can't even get a couple of minutes of time alone together; won't be tormented by watching other people's relationships develop at the same time as theirs but with no obstacles and no time constraints; let alone have to deal with the emotional fallout while sitting three feet away from a loving husband. This isn't a classic tragedy, either - Celia nearly throws herself under an express train, which would be suitably melodramatic, but instead goes home to tell off the children and sit with her mending while her husband does the crossword. Alec moves to Johannesburg, which could be a way to live out his days in exotic solitude, but he takes Madeleine and his sons with him, which rather puts the kibosh on that picture of him. You can't even get away with calling it a love story. It's not a story about love, but a story about people. I don't agree that the characters' morals are at all outdated. Laura and Alec don't limit themselves to occasional kisses and eventually break off all contact for ever purely because adultery is frowned upon in staid old 1940's Britain, but because neither of them would want to make the other hurt the people they love. They've fallen in love in complete innocence, both having been perfectly happy before they met each other. Neither was looking for an affair. Neither was bored or fed up with their marriage. There are no convenient excuses at hand. Laura and Alec are in identical positions, and for her to leave Fred and the children would be to cause immense pain to herself and for them, none of it deserved, to set up home with some random bloke she met at the train station one night a few weeks ago. On top of that, it would hurt Alec and all his family in exactly the same way. To go through with this would be for each of them to destroy in the other the innocence that's the reason they love each other in the first place. They have to make a terrible choice, and will both be badly hurt whatever they do, but at least this way they only hurt themselves - they don't harm each other, and they don't hurt other people. This isn't dated morality, it's just two people's refusal to compromise each other. It's a testament to the general excellence of this film that this can be portrayed this convincingly, realistically and unpretentiously.
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