Several earlier novels as well as some other earlier films had adumbrated the
central conflict of Brief Encounter. Perhaps it was the sheer ordinariness
of the protagonists and how they are performed by less well-known actors
that made such a strong appeal. By comparison with the film, the Coward play
from which it is adapted appears limited and somewhat stiff.
Far from being cinematically backward, 1950s British film had dashes of imagination that outdid more famous or prestigious examples from the cinematic canon. In his contribution to this book, Dave Rolinson, particularly in his recovery of the neglected The Horse's Mouth, aptly draws attention to a sharper edge to 1950s British film comedy than is always acknowledged. British film of this period is not often credited with that kind of audacity or comic cheek. The comedy is often characterised as postcard or parochial, with the likeable but limited registers of, say, Henry Cornelius's Genevieve or Basil Dearden's The Smallest Show on Earth being typical of the range. Again a classic image from 1950s British cinema would be Jack Hawkins in The Cruel Sea, the epitome of quiet English integrity.