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Britain / Films / Brief Encounter
The film and stage show "Brief Encounter"
  Stage show
  Characters & cast
  Film locations
  Further information
Related pages:
British films: Britain/Films


The film "Brief Encounter" was filmed between February and May 1945 and released in November 1945 (shortly after the end of the Second World War).
It was based on Noël Coward's 1935 play "Still Life", and was directed by David Lean.
This is a romantic drama: a sad story about impossible love. It is widely considered to be one of the best ever romantic films.

Watch the original film trailer (opens in a new window)

A stage show version of the story started showing in London in February 2008. This page provides background notes and information to help you to enjoy either the film or the stage show.

Brief Encounter [1945] (DVD)
Studio: ITV DVD
Date: February 2001
Brief Encounter (BFI Film Classics) (book)
Author: Richard Dyer
Publisher: BFI Publishing
Date: November 1993

Recommended music to listen to when reading this page: Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.2

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The stage version of Brief Encounter has been created by Emma Rice and her Kneehigh Theatre Company (based in Cornwall). It was performed at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and at the West Yorkshire Playhouse (in Leeds) before it played in the West End at The Cinema Haymarket from February to November 2008. Haymarket was the street where there used to be a regular market for hay and straw during the 18th century. Stable yards were later converted into shops and offices. Some of these buildings were then demolished and replaced by the Carlton Theatre, which opened in 1927. The theatre was designed for both live shows and films, and included a stage, orchestra pit and changing rooms. Soon after the theatre opened "talkies" started to replace silent films, and live shows were no longer performed here (until this show). The premiere of the film Brief Encounter was at this theatre in 1946. The building has had several changes of owner and is now part of Cineworld Cinemas.

In February 2009 this stage show embarked on a 27-week UK tour:

Dates Location Theatre (click on link to book tickets)
Fri 13 Feb - Sat 28 Feb 2009 Northampton Royal and Derngate
Tue 3 Mar - Sat 7 Mar 2009 Aberdeen His Majesty's Theatre
Tue 10 Mar - Sat 14 Mar 2009 Canterbury Marlowe Theatre
Tue 24 Mar - Sat 28 Mar 2009 Salford (near Manchester) The Lowry
Tue 31 Mar - Sat 4 Apr 2009 Cambridge Arts Theatre
Tue 7 Apr - Sat 11 Apr 2009 Richmond (near London) Richmond Theatre
Tue 14 Apr - Sat 18 Apr 2009 Cardiff New Theatre
Tue 21 Apr - Sat 25 Apr 2009 Brighton Theatre Royal
Tue 28 Apr - Sat 2 May 2009 Coventry Warwick Arts Centre
Tue 5 May - Sat 9 May 2009 Nottingham Theatre Royal
Tue 12 May - Sat 16 May 2009 Newcastle Theatre Royal
Tue 19 May - Sat 23 May 2009 Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
Tue 26 May - Sat 30 May 2009 Bath Theatre Royal
Tue 16 Jun - Sat 20 Jun 2009 Cheltenham Everyman Theatre
Tue 22 Jun - Sat 27 Jun 2009 Sheffield Lyceum
Tue 30 Jun - Sat 4 Jul 2009 Cornwall Hall for Cornwall

This production of Brief Encounter expands on the comic characters of Beryl and Mrs Bagot, as well as telling the classic romantic tale of Laura and Alec's love affair using the original words. A live band also plays some of Noël Coward's songs. Staff wear cinema attendant uniforms in the style of the 1930's.

Watch the stage show trailer (opens in a new window)

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Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard

The main characters in the story, and the actors who play these parts in the film, are as follows:

Laura Jesson, a housewife who is married and has two children (Bobby and Margaret) - played by Celia Johnson:
Dr Alec Harvey, a doctor who is married to a woman called Madeleine and has a couple of boys - played by Trevor Howard:
Fred Jesson, Laura's gentle husband - played by Cyril Raymond:




Albert Godby, the station's porter and ticket inspector - played by Stanley Holloway:
Myrtle Bagot (Mrs Bagot) the manageress of the station's refreshment room - played by Joyce Carey:
Beryl Walters, Mrs Bagot's assistant in the refreshment room (who fancies the cake-seller Stanley) - played by Margaret Barton:


Mrs Bagot


Dolly Messiter, an acquaintance of Laura's who likes to gossip - played by Everley Gregg:
Mary Norton, an old friend of Laura's who sees her and Alec dining at The Royal - played by Marjorie Mars:
Mrs Rowlandson, Mary Norton's rich cousin - played by Nuna Davey:
Stephen Lynn, a head doctor who graduated from medical school at the same time as Alec - played by Valentine Dyall:


Mrs Rowlandson (left) and Mary Norton (right)

Stephen Lynn

Celia Johnson: A Biography (book)
Author: Kate Fleming (daughter of Celia Johnson)
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Date: October 1991
Trevor Howard: A Personal Biography (book)
Author: Terence Pettigrew (friend of Trevor Howard)
Publisher: Peter Owen Ltd
Date: July 2001

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There are many famous quotes from Brief Encounter, because the language used is very poetic and memorable. Below are a few examples:

Alec: I love you. I love you. You love me too. It's no use pretending it hasn't happened because it has.
Laura: Yes it has. I don't want to pretend anything either to you or to anyone else. But from now on, I shall have to. That's what's wrong. Don't you see? That's what spoils everything. That's why we must stop, here and now, talking like this. We're neither of us free to love each other. There's too much in the way. There's still time, if we control ourselves and behave like sensible human beings. There's still time.

Laura (thinking to herself): This can't last. This misery can't last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. There'll come a time in the future when I shan't mind about this any more, when I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was. But no, no, I don't want that time to come ever. I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days.

Laura (thinking to herself while looking at Fred): Fred, dear Fred. There's so much that I want to say to you. You're the only one in the world with enough wisdom and gentleness to understand. If only it was somebody else's story and not mine. As it is, you're the only one in the world that I can never tell.

Fred: Is there anything I can do to help?
Laura: Yes, Fred. You always help.
You've been a long way away.
Laura: Yes.
Fred: Well, whatever it was, thank you for coming back to me.

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The main places mentioned in the film are:
Milford Junction: the train station where Laura and Alec first meet
Churley: the station near where Alec has his doctor's practice (trains leave from Platform 4 at Milford Junction)
Ketchworth: the station near where Laura lives (trains leave from Platform 3 at Milford Junction)
Places in Milford which are mentioned in the story are two cinemas called the Palladium and the Palace, a restaurant called the Kardomah, and a hotel called the Royal.

The places used for making the film were as follows:
- Some scenes (including the street scene outside the hospital) were filmed on a set at Denham Film Studios (Denham is in Buckinghamshire)
- Many of the scenes in Milford were filmed in Beaconsfield, a town not far from Denham
- The train scenes were filmed at Carnforth station in Lancashire. This station is still open today
- The cinema scenes were filmed at the Metropole Cinema in London's Victoria
- The boating scene was filmed at London's Regent's Park
- The bridge scene was filmed in the Lake District, near Ambleside

Regent's Park

A bridge near Ambleside (in the Lake District)

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Sections from Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Number 2 are played at various times during the film. Listen to: part 1 or part 2.
Noël Coward insisted that this music should be used for the film, because of the emotions which it expresses.
[if you do not know this music you may know the song All by myself by Eric Carmen, which was based largely on part of this piano concerto]

Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos Nos. 1-4 (4 CDs: box set)
Label: Sony Classical
Date: December 2004

In the Karmodah a trio is seen playing Moritz Moszkowski's Spanish Dance Number 5 (Bolero).

The Brief Encounter stage show includes several songs written by Noël Coward, including "Go slow Johnny", "A room with a view", "I am no good at love" and "Any little fish".

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The film "Brief Encounter" was directed by David Lean (1908-1991).

Noël Coward collaborated with David Lean on four films. In 1942 Noël asked David, who had previously been an editor, to co-direct the film "In Which We Serve". David then directed three of Noël's plays: "This Happy Breed" (released in 1944), "Blithe Spirit" (1945) and finally "Brief Encounter" (1945). Celia Johnson acted in three of these ("In Which We Serve", "This Happy Breed" and "Brief Encounter").

David Lean went on to direct many other famous films. Amongst these were "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), "Dr Zhivago" (1965), and "A Passage to India" (1984).

David Lean

"Lawrence of Arabia"

"The Passionate Friends"

For more information about David Lean see:

The David Lean Collection (9 DVDs)
("Brief Encounter"; "Great Expectations"; "Oliver Twist"; "Madeleine"; "The Passionate Friends"; "The Sound Barrier"; "Hobson's Choice"; "This Happy Breed"; "Blithe Spirit")
Studio: ITV DVD
Date: November 2006
In Which We Serve (DVD)
(1942 film directed by David Lean and Noël Coward, starring Celia Johnson)
Studio: ITV DVD
Date: January 2002
The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957] (DVD)
(directed by David Lean)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Date: December 2000
Lawrence of Arabia [1962] (DVD)
(directed by David Lean)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Date: April 2001
Dr Zhivago [1965] (DVD)
(directed by David Lean)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Date: June 2006
A Passage to India [1984] (DVD)
(directed by David Lean)
Studio: MGM Entertainment
Date: March 2003

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The story was written by Noël Coward. It was one of 9 short plays published in a collection called "Tonight at 8:30", and was originally called "Still Life". This play was set purely in a railway cafe and lasted about 30 minutes. When it was made into a film scenes were added which took place in the town and countryside, and part of the end of the story was put at the start to make the audience interested in why Laura and Alec were in such an emotional state.

Noël Coward (1899-1973) is widely regarded as having been one of Britain's finest ever playwrights. He wrote, acted, directed and produced both on stage and for films.
He was also a composer and songwriter. Some well-known songs by Noël Coward include: Mad dogs and Englishmen, Don't let's be beastly to the Germans, World weary and Could You Please Oblige Us With A Bren Gun.

Noël Coward Collected Plays 3 (book)
Author: Noël Coward
Publisher: Methuen Drama
Date: February 2000
The Noël Coward Collection (7 DVDs)
Studio: 2 Entertain Video
Date: November 2006
Mad Dogs and Englishmen (2 music CDs)
Artist: Noël Coward
Label: Avid
Date: July 2007

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* Food and drink *

A Banbury cake is an oval-shaped cake (filled with currants) made in the Oxford village of Banbury (it is similar to an Eccles cake)

Mrs Bagot: Let go of me this minute Albert! [Albert knocks over a plate of cakes] Now look at me [=my] Banburys all over the floor!

A Bath bun is a bread bun which contains a whole sugar cube in the middle.

* Old English usage *

Some of the language used in the film is not in common usage today. For example:

- today it is rare for someone to use "one" as a personal pronoun:
Dolly: One has one's roots after all, hasn't one?

- the word "gay" is rarely used to mean "happy" (these days the word is generally used to mean "homosexual"):
Laura: I suddenly felt reckless and gay

- the word "rather" is not usually put at the end of a sentence to mean "quite a lot":
Laura: The present for your birthday was worrying me rather

- the phrase "much obliged" is not commonly used today ("grateful" is used instead):
Laura: I should be so much obliged

- the word "awfully" or "frightfully" is not often used these days to mean "very":
Alec: How awfully nice you are.
Fred: I really don't see what's so frightfully funny.

- these days it would be considered impolite to call a young or middle-aged woman "old girl"
Fred [speaking to Laura]: It's alright, old girl

* References to people *

Kate O'Brien (1897-1974) was a popular Irish novelist. In the story, Laura likes to borrow books by Kate O'Brien when she goes to the library.

John Keats (1795-1821) was a famous English romantic poet. When Fred is trying to solve a crossword clue in The Times newspaper, the answer is the word "romance" from this poem:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink

Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) was a powerful religious leader and minister in France during the rule of King Louis the Thirteenth (the story "The Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas was set during this period of history).

Richard the Third was the king of England from 1483-1485. William Shakespeare wrote a play about his life, including the famous saying "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

Victoria was the British queen from 1837-1901.

* Words and phrases *

If you are not a native English speaker, below are some words or phrases you may want to look up or discuss with your English teacher before seeing the film (they are listed in the order in which they appear):

refreshment room ; a dust-up (=fight) ; idle gossip ; time and tide wait for no man ; to be a dark horse ; to make mischief ; express train ; boat train ; a shilling ; a sixpence ; to buck you up ; to look peaky ; an acquaintance ; to pry ; nouveau riche (=newly wealthy person) ; to chatter ; nineteen to the dozen ; to powder your nose ; misery ; a grammar school ; a relapse ; a pantomime ; fractious ; to spoil someone ; to thrash (=hit) ; to go to the pictures (=cinema) ; run-down ; to faint ; to strangle ; delirium ; Baluchistan (=region of Pakistan) ; to put you off your stride ; a mac (=mackintosh, raincoat) ; a refined voice ; a Manx cat (=cat without a tail) ; a piece of grit ; to puff ; to be extravagant ; a barrel organ ; a GP (=general practitioner, doctor) ; a (doctor's) practice ; to plump for (=choose) ; a sole (=type of fish) ; a cellist ; dreadful ; to keep something up ; sane ; uncomplicated ; dull ; a physician (=doctor) ; extraordinary ; a matron ; to play truant ; abruptly ; a premonition ; to pay through the nose ; meticulously ; colossal ; gigantic ; an epoch ; delicate ; kindly ; without so much as a "by your leave" ; a pastry ; a Bath bun ; a char ; there are just as good fish in the sea ; Folkestone and Hythe (=towns in Kent, on the south-east coast of England) ; dead as a doornail ; a guinea (=old coin) ; an idealist ; to talk shop ; ambitious ; special pigeon (=topic at which you are an expert) ; preventive medicine ; strangulated ; a sense of vocation ; unsentimental ; hygiene ; pneumoconiosis / fibrosis / anthracosis / chalicosis / silicosis (=lung diseases caused by dust from mining) inhalation ; humbly ; a tail-light ; a latchkey ; beyond a shadow of doubt ; compartment (of a train) ; carriage (of a train) ; a clergyman ; to blush ; undignified ; to flirt ; to walk briskly ; a mudguard ; a kerb ; concussion ; to be as right as rain (=to be well) ; a sedative ; a bandage ; hysterical ; sinister ; to revel in something ; the Navy ; nonsense ; a parrot ; noble ; to spoil ; by all means (=please) ; what on Earth is the matter? (=what is wrong?) ; to make mountains out of molehills ; pathetic ; to blush ; avenging ; to take liberties ; a slap ; to be on duty ; to be ashamed of yourself ; high spirits ; a vestry ; to gape at something ; panic-stricken ; the whistle's gone ; absurd ; furtively ; usherette ; with stony contempt ; botanical gardens ; to be withdrawn ; a pang of conscience ; to be raving mad ; to row ; to go round and round in ever-narrowing circles ; to steer ; shameful ; intensely (=strongly) ; to tell left from right ; to be dotty (=to be a bit mad) ; to pretend ; to spoil ; to be miles away (=to be daydreaming) ; deafening (=loud) ; to be contented (=to be happy) ; an eternity (=long time) ; a subway (=underground passage) ; wretched ; a fool ; glamourous ; a fantasy ; to be wooed ; to tune up ; a gondola ; a mandolin (=a musical instrument) ; a pollarded willow (=a tree that has had its branches cut) ; a level crossing ; soberly ; without wings ; guiltiness ; in-laws ; beautifying ; a domestic lie ; to hop on a train ; a barometer ; a black lie ; to let someone down ; to be in a trance ; a wedding reception ; champagne ; to be charming ; a lounge ; to be respectable ; over-made-up ; short-sighted; to peer ; horrid ; parapet (=top of a curved bridge) ; to shiver ; furtiveness ; to reassure yourself ; overwhelming ; a garage ; to be at the edge of a precipice ; vehemently (=strongly) ; whisky ; to be a sport ; to get someone into trouble (=to make a girl pregnant) ; to cheek someone (=to be rude) ; saucy ; an upstart ; double-quick ; to make a nuisance of yourself ; cheerio! (=goodbye) ; Shirley Temple (=actress) ; to insult ; hop it! (=go away!) ; blooming (=old swear word) ; a Sunday school ; a basket [case] ; a nip (=a small amount of a strong alcoholic drink) ; Three Star (=a make of brandy) ; humiliated ; to pull yourself together ; to be in a terrible state ; a saucepan ; trusted ; degrading ; a war memorial ; stiflingly hot ; to disapprove ; to calm your nerves ; presently ; to catch cold ; casual ; a criminal ; yard ; bookstall ; much obliged (=very grateful) ; darling ; men of the world ; to matter ; self-respect ; decency ; sordidness ; strain ; foolish ; to forgive ; credible ; to feel numbed ; a village pub ; once in a while ; with all my heart and soul ; to shop until you drop ; to fuss ; dazed ; bewildered

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The official website for the stage production:
[a free education pack can be downloaded from this site - click on "Education" to access this]
Kneehigh Theatre Company:

Noël Coward Society:
Sir Noël Coward:
David Lean:

Carnforth station and visitor centre:
Carnforth station's Brief Encounter refreshment room:

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