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A love affair which was not meant to be is the basis for this real-life look into the extra-marital attractions which develop between married couples.
For more about Brief Encounter and the Brief Encounter Blu-ray release, see Brief Encounter Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on February 4, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway, Joyce Carey, Cyril Raymond, Everley Gregg
Director: David Lean
» See full cast & crew
Brief Encounter Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, February 4, 2009
Winner of the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1946 and nominated for three Oscar awards in 1947, including Best Actress (Celia Johnson) and Best Director (David Lean), "Brief Encounter" (1945) follows the complex love story between a middle-class housewife and a married doctor. The film is based on Noel Coward's play "Still Life". Courtesy of UK-based distributors ITV-Granada.
Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) encounters Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) at a busy railway station. She is immediately drawn to him; he could hardly take his eyes off of her. The two begin to meet regularly. Eventually, they realize that because of their families and status there isn't any future for what they have initiated. But instead of parting ways, the two decide to simply follow their hearts.
David Lean's Brief Encounter is a simple film with a complex message. It tells a straightforward story about two people willing to go outside of their comfort zones to experience love. It also provides a curious picture of post-war England and its class ordinance.
Though Brief Encounter never clarifies whether Laura is still in love with her husband, Fred (Cyril Raymond), when he appears on screen it quickly becomes obvious why she has fallen for Dr. Alec Harvey - Fred lacks everything Alec possesses, from proper manners to looks.
Still, Laura is notably indecisive. It takes a long time for her to open up to Alec, and when she finally does it feels like plenty of the magic that attracted the two in the first place might have disappeared. A few weeks later, the affair is over.
Brief Encounter appears to be liked for a variety of different reasons. Some people are drawn to it because of its stunning cinematography. Others appreciate the simple but elegant love story it tells, which tends to resonate with female viewers in a manner few other classic romantic films do. There is also a large group of cinephilles who find the social overtones in Brief Encounter fascinating to deconstruct.
I like this much revered British film because it does not glamorize or overdramatize the relationship between its main protagonists. Furthermore, its narrative does an excellent job of capturing the polarized emotions an extramarital affair would spur as well as the social stigma that is immediately attached to it. Indeed, right and wrong in this film are effectively misplaced and granted a sense of realism few contemporary romantic films that I could recall have managed to replicate.
David Lean's splendid black and white cinematography is complimented by powerful excerpts from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18, in C minor. The music blends incredibly well with the numerous scenes from the railway station and it certainly adds a bit of a noir-ish vibe to the story. For example, during the second half of the film, where Laura's indecisiveness becomes the focus of attention, there are very specific changes in the pacing of the story that are impossible to separate from the noir vibe mentioned above.
In 1974, Alan Bridges directed a made-for-TV remake of Brief Encounter, starring Sophia Loren and Richard Burton, but the film ended up being a commercial failure and a critical flop.
Brief Encounter Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC, and granted a 1080p transfer David Lean's Brief Encounter arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of ITV-Granada.
There are some good news about this much anticipated Blu-ray release, and some not so good news. Let's start with the good ones – indeed, BFI (British Film Institute) and ITV-Granada's joint efforts to bring a deserving, fully-restored, print of David Lean's classic have resulted in a release that looks substantially stronger than what Criterion and Studio Canal offered us in the past. The 1080p transfer is notably smoother, lacking practically all of the specks and dots from previous DVD releases, and with a visibly stronger color-scheme (there are plenty of scenes where the blacks are richer and better saturated). Contrast is also more convincing on ITV's disc, though it seems to be quite inconsistent as well. Finally, the Blu-ray disc also eliminates almost completely the serious edge-enhancement issues that plagued the Criterion disc.
Here are the not so good news – ITV Granada have released their first Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc, and I assume that, either directly or indirectly, Studio Canal are responsible for it. Furthermore, the print provided by ITV Granada seems to reveal what I often refer to as pulsating softness – specific sharp-looking and well detailed portions of the film overlap with soft and unfocused footage (a lot of 50s and 60s R1 DVD releases of French and Italian films suffer from it). Furthermore, I am fairly certain that the print for Brief Encounter has undergone a mild noise-reduction treatment, which has kept most of the film grain intact, but apparently not all of it. As a result, you would notice plenty of the pulsating softness I mentioned earlier. This being said, there are more than a few scenes where the black-white balance is visibly altered (take a look at screen capture #9). To sum it all up, yes, the Blu-ray transfer is certainly stronger than the SDVD transfers we have seen in the past offered by other distributors, but there are plenty of minor issues with it that I think should have been addressed. Given the fact that now there is a great looking and freshly-restored master print, which BFI and ITV Granada have finalized, this Blu-ray release is quite a bit underwhelming. (Note: This Blu-ray disc is Region-B "locked", which means that unless you have a native Region-B player, or a Region-Free player, you will not be able to access its content).
Brief Encounter Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray release: English Dolby Digital 2.0. I really do not have any reservations with the audio treatment ITV Granada have secured for Brief Encounter. It is fairly obvious that the audio, just as the video, has undergone some serious restoration work. As a result, you should be able to immediately notice how notably smoother and rounder the sound coming off of your speakers is. Furthermore, balance is certainly very strong here as well. In fact, at no point during my viewing of this disc was I able to detect any concerning audio distortions – the dialog is crystal clear and very easy to follow. Finally, I did not detect any disturbing cracks, pops, or hissings to report here either. For the record, ITV-Granada have supplied optional English subtitles for the main feature.
Brief Encounter Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
In addition to a gallery of stills and the original theatrical trailer for Brief Encounter, on this Blu-ray disc you will find a very short "Restoration Featurette" highlighting the improvements this new print offers as well as a second, more elaborate, featurette titled "A Profile of Brief Encounter" which summarizes the history behind David Lean's film. Please note that from the extras provided on this Blu-ray disc you will only be able to access the "Restoration Featurette" and the gallery of stills (if viewing the disc on a US TV), the theatrical trailer and "A Profile of Brief Encounter" are both in standard-def PAL.
Brief Encounter Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
David Lean's Brief Encounter debuts on Blu-ray courtesy of UK-based distributors ITV-Granada, and I am certainly pleased to have it in my collection. I am, however, somewhat underwhelmed by the look of this release. No, I am not disappointed by it, as technically this is certainly the most complete version of this classic British film available on the market. But I do believe that the key points I made in my technical analysis could have been very easily addressed, given what the British Film Institute and ITV-Granada have accomplished together. I wonder what the results would have been had BFI released Brief Encounter on Blu-ray.
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