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There seems to be no slowing-down in the unceasing instances of the film as a point of reference, in matters of varied significance. The film clearly touched on matters of human significance in such ways as account for the longevity of its place in the culture. It is not just a matter of nostalgia; and it’s not just because of its moral stance, crucial as that is. It is also, finally, a superbly crafted piece of filmmaking with some unforgettable performances and moments of visual and aural power.

in The never-ending Brief Encounter

Radio versions, drawn from the film not the preceding play, attracted many well-known actors. There were also two plays and an opera bearing the film’s title and narrative outline, the opera stage perhaps less amenable to the intimacy that was part of the film’s appeal. The Kneehigh Company’s production was especially imaginative in its use of mixed-media resources. The TV film, Staying On, saw Johnson and Howard reunited in an Indian-set tale with some details that recall the old film, at least for the cognoscenti.

in The never-ending Brief Encounter
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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.

in The never-ending Brief Encounter

The phrase ‘brief encounter’ had been in very modest use since the 1860s, according to one source, but in the same source’s graphing of the usage it was seen to soar from the mid 1940s, reaching another high peak as late as 2010. Not just in the UK, but the US, Australia and even Hong Kong have drawn on the resonant title for TV items. Numerous minor variants of the title, such as A Brief Encounter and Brief Encounters, indicate the prolificacy of this particular phenomenon. It seems unlikely that any other film title has given rise to such seemingly endless repetition, albeit in often punning titles. Some of the episodes make comic capital from their references to Lean’s film, recalling its central narrative as well as its title.

in The never-ending Brief Encounter
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In the disastrous 1974 remake of Brief Encounter, almost every aspect goes wrong. The casting of glamorous international stars reduces the sense of ordinary people facing emotional conflict, and the structural change also undermines this. The short gay take on the original, Flames of Passion, offered a wordless version, which found some festival favour but not general release.

in The never-ending Brief Encounter
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This chapter introduces the idea of Brief Encounter’s remarkable after-life. It outstrips other notable films in the varied ways in which it has persisted in the collective memory. Some of these ways will prove more trivial than others but all will contribute the book’s central contention.

in The never-ending Brief Encounter

Brian McFarlane’s The never-ending Brief Encounter is above all a book intended for those who have seen and never forgotten the famous 1945 film in which two decent, middle-class people meet by chance, unexpectedly fall in love, but in the end acknowledge the claims of others. The book grew out of an article, the writing of which revealed that there was so much more to the after-life of the film than the author had realised. This book examines David Lean’s film in sufficient detail to bring its key situations vividly to life, and to give an understanding of how it reworks Nöel Coward’s somewhat static one-act play to profound effect. It also examines the ways in which the ‘comic relief’ is made to work towards the poignant ending. However, the main purpose of the book is to consider the remarkable after-life the film has given rise to. The most specific examples of this phenomenon are, of course, the appalling film remake with its miscast stars, and the later stage versions – both bearing the original title and attracting well-known players and positive audience and critical response – and an opera! As well, there are films and TV series which have ‘quoted’ the film (usually via black-and-white inserts) as commentary on the action of the film or series. There are many other films that, without direct quotation, seem clearly to be echoing their famous predecessor; for example, in the haunting visual quality of a deserted railway platform.

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This chapter records some of the numerous references to the film, either by invoking the title to make a point about the emotional conflicts involved, or in more sustained situations. The latter include a witty advertising film for refrigerators and a potter’s enactment of a scene between two lovers who raise their coffee mugs that are engraved to reveal emotional responses. The range of such allusions, along with many usages of the title in novels and reviews of yet other books, reinforces our sense of the far from still life of the movie.

in The never-ending Brief Encounter
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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.

in The never-ending Brief Encounter
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By ‘quoting’ from the film is meant that scenes from the 1945 black-and-white classic are inserted into the films’ narratives or, in the case of The History Boys, the last moments of Brief Encounter are acted out by some film-mad schoolboys. When Lean’s film is being quoted, there is discussion about which excerpts are inserted into the new film – and just how the chosen excerpt bears on the rest of the film. This chapter considers the specific episodes ‘quoted’ in the relevant films, the point in the narrative of the film concerned at which such episodes are glimpsed on screens large or small, and how this quotation reflects on the moments of its insertion. It can even be used for comedy, as in The History Boys or the TV series Shameless.

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