As distinct from those films that directly ‘quote’ from Brief Encounter,
there are many more that seem in various ways to echo it. We can’t know to
what extent the filmmakers involved had Brief Encounter in mind, but the
fact is that its essential scenario and moral core still retain their
emotional power, despite the shifts in cultural mores, irresistibly
suggesting the long shadow it casts. Those titles considered here involve,
to varying degrees, a relationship whose outcome foregrounds the conflict of
desire and – what? – convention, other obligations, decency and other
circumstantial and/or moral pressures that one or both protagonists take
into consideration. It is not simply a matter of ‘duty’ but, as well, a real
concern for the well-being of other people and for one’s own self-respect,
the two being intricately connected in Brief Encounter. And there are
recurring images, visual and aural, that recall the old film.
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.