The last time we delved into British cinema, we thought we’d discovered a forgotten gem. Now, let’s look at the flipside: the film that was highly acclaimed as a masterpiece, but which I didn’t enjoy at all.
The words “realist cinema” should always act as a warning. It’s supposed to bring a sharper focus, convey events that might actually happen to anyone. The idea was probably to move away from what had come before, to throw out both heroic tragedy and anything that happened to exceptional people out with the bathwater. Turns out it creates films that are tawdry and more than a bit boring.
The critics, of course, loved them.
The one we’re looking at today is called Brief Encounter. It tells the story of a bored housewife (protip: anything that tells the story of a bored housewife will be worse, all other variables remaining constant, than anything which doesn’t) who meets a man on a train and begins a platonic relationship with him.
This had the potential to turn into something interesting, except that just when interesting was about to occur, the guy’s best friend walked in on them and they decided to go their separate ways. In order to kill the possibility of interesting things ensuing later, the man decides to leave for South Africa. It’s a study in frustration for both the characters and the audience.
Yes, it deftly echoes the angst and utter meaninglessness of middle class existence (the ones from 1938 in this case)… but does little else. That’s why critics loved it, but it left me feeling empty (your mileage may vary).
That’s not to say that it’s a bad piece of filmmaking. It isn’t. It wasn’t hard to watch, it was well acted and well made. The atmosphere was extremely well created and the whole “train station in the night” is truly memorable. The problem is that it was a realist film, which meant that, being well executed just meant that, in the end, it was a bit tawdry and disappointing. Like life itself, something only a critic can love…
The interesting notes that accompany this one are that it was based on a Noël Coward play whose plot sounds a lot more interesting than the film.
Also, a shout out to actress Margaret Barton, only surviving member of the cast that I could find. If you’re reading this, take heart; the acting was excellent–the concept let you guys down.