HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY: Now…Unshred My Heart!


BRIEF ( Celia Johnson )“This can’t last. This misery can’t last.”

…But it helps if you have a great voice-over to tell its story.


“Brief Encounter” is so poignantly and lovingly told that seventy years later, its heartache is still felt. ( SPOILERS ) Talk about timeless. ( Come on TCM, show it at the festival next month. I want to hear an auditorium filled with sobs and blubbering. )  I like how the movie begins at the end. This way, when the scene plays again after we’ve seen what’s gone on before, the end has much more meaning.


A chance meeting by a doctor and a housewife is filled in a short time with deep intimacy.


Nothing’s blatant and explicit, mind you. Walks in the park, a trip to the cinema, canoeing, lunch…they cram their entire experience into a short amount of time. You can be cynical if you like ( but don’t do it here ) and say they really won’t know each other until they live the day-to-day life of laundry and uncapped toothpaste tubes. But I like to think they’d weather that.


The movie is a model of restraint. When they first become interested in each other their talk of love is underneath their conversation about medicine. This is not a blazingly glam, twenty-something couple  boozing around blitzkrieged London and rolling in the deep. The film stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. They’re mature, older and we watch as their love slowly blossoms. And it’s not the – things keeping them apart – that makes their love so strong. Okay, ya got me; if I’m being honest, a bit of absence and anticipation of their every Thursday meetings might factor into this. But that’s okay, as viewers, we’re vested in their meetings too.


Tell me how YOU felt when she waited and waited for him and he didn’t show up. Tell me how YOU felt when they do kiss.


They have a growing affection for each other and we’ve watched it grow before OUR very eyes. We don’t see his homelife, but we do see hers. And we see what’s at risk.

Yes, we see some of the day-to-day life she leads. Her children squabble, her husband takes her somewhat for granted. But we know there’s more going on there. They’ve built a life together with their two children. He’s no brute. He loves her. How can the day-to-day outweigh the excitement of being in love with someone who really listens and understands you? It does carry weight. Commitment to what you promise does carry weight. When she comes from a rendezvous and hears her son’s been injured, she snaps into Mommy mode immediately to run to him without a moment’s hesitation. I like that they don’t make the husband out to be an ogre.


She can’t live in these two worlds much longer, and will have to make a choice when he tells her he’s been offered a medical position in South Africa. He’ll stay if she wants him to stay. The movie continues its thread of restraint. Her decision is goodbye. They have to say goodbye without even saying “Goodbye.” This has got to be worse than Rick sending Ilsa off on that plane with his little speech. At their last time meeting together,  an acquaintance of hers intrudes on this scene and doesn’t get the hint to leave. To see Trevor Howard’s hand squeeze Celia Johnson’s shoulder in that final silent goodbye is more than I can bear. Johnson – so polite she won’t interrupt the lady TO have a moment alone with him. Howard – follows her lead of silence, instead of scooping her into his arms and out of that railway lounge to say a proper goodbye. It’s all like a bandage being torn off a scab. The pain sears as flesh is torn away, small specks of blood reveal a wound re-opened. How else can I describe watching their last moments.


Love is not necessarily a volatile combustible thing. Words don’t matter…emotions are vivid. Johnson’s voice-over in “Brief Encounter” is what she’d like to tell her husband about what is going on with her. She’d like to share her inner voice, her inner life, but cannot. How many husbands have unknowingly dodged a bullet because of their wives’ sense of responsibility and duty. Johnson’s family would be lost without her. See this movie and listen to what her husband says and you’ll know why, though her heart is breaking and she’s no longer the same woman she was before that cinder blew into her eye, she stays.



Next: “ROMAN HOLIDAY” ………..

14 thoughts on “HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY: Now…Unshred My Heart!

  1. I love BRIEF ENCOUNTER…There is also the theme of men returning from the war and wives not knowing how to relate to their husbands, now changed by the horrors they had witnessed. The ending is so sad and yet so right and true to the characters. If it was made today the husband would be a brute and she would end up with the Trevor Howard character, but then it wouldn’t have the same impact.


    • Hello there – I agree with you on all points. That restraint the film shows is just killer. Today they’d certainly make brutes and nags…just so we’ll know who to root for. Luckily for us classic film fans, we understood subtlety. We have to; the Hays Code didn’t let us see a thing. You know what film I just saw recently that had a scene of lovers saying goodbye but unable to speak it: “Fallen Idol.” Yes, mean ol’ Ralph ( “The Heiress” ) Richardson was so totally in love and because his young charge was with him, he couldn’t say a proper goodbye to the woman he loved. It’s a heart wrenching scene. “Brief Encounter” — a heartbreaker! Thanx.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Casablanca”. Its a decent movie. If not for Henreid, Bergman, Bogart, Raines, Lorre, Veidt, and Curtis and several superb character actors it would not amount to much, pretty dull actually. As for romance I’d give it a ‘7’, after all it has a pretty good beat and you can dance to it. If you’re under 40 you probably have no idea what I’m talking about! Okay, okay, just kidding. This movie remains one of the best ever! Great chemistry, acting, directing, its got it all! When it comes to intrigue and romance there is none better, individual tastes and preferences in consideration, and it remains one of the most popular movies in film history and rightly so, so there!


    • Hiya Kid. “Casablanca” – one of the great stories. Without the big stars, you say, the story might be pretty dull. I dunno. All movies need some good actors to put over a story. And this one has them in spades. But think about it, the story is pretty compelling. A man’s ex-lover comes to see him about papers that could set her husband free. Can she get ’em or not. Again, this might not be a classic without Bogart, Bergman, Henreid, Rains, Lorre and Veidt in charge some seventy-odd years later. But the story itsel, the plot machinations are pretty good.

      L0L! Your American Bandstand reference went straight to the heart of my memories. “Casablanca” has a pretty good beat and my heart dances to it. I’ll give it an “8”.


  3. Thanks Theresa and Happy Valentines Day.As usual your essays were informative and fun,and all three films deserve to be the classics that they did become.A little real life drama comes to mind where another actress wins Oscar,gives up Hollywood career,deserts country.and becomes a real life princess…and that of course would be (our) Philly’s own Grace Kelly.


    • Hi there Bob. Thanks for reading. Glad you’re enjoying my essays and picked up on my Princess Grace reference. Appreciate your comments. Thanxx! And a good Valentine’s Day to you as well.


  4. Just finished watching ‘Casablanca’ for the hundreth time. Well-written, T. Bogie unleashed his heart, and then had to unleash it again….


  5. I’ll never forget seeing the first act of La Boheme with two men, even older than I. Though it is not the sad part of the story, the three of us were in tears before the act ended.


  6. Oh, Roman Holiday…watching Peck swallow while he’s on that line, willing her the strength to carry on…he has the most expressive Adams apple in history of the movies.


    • Now THAT is the best commentary I’ve ever heard on this movie. L0L!! Peck is an actor down to his Adam’s Apple. ( I’m amazed that Wyler kept us on that line as she greeted the reporters. That would NEVER go in today’s movies. The suspense… )


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