The Story (continued)
Brief Encounter (1946)
After lunch, they innocently attend the cinema together, choosing to see "Love in the Mist" at the Palladium. [Laura insists that they each pay their own separate admission but Alec buys them tickets for the upstairs balcony anyway. The trailer/preview before the main feature is for a film titled "Flames of Passion" - advertised as: "Stupendous," "Colossal," "Gigantic," and "Epoch-Making."
Laura: I feel awfully grand perched up here. It was very extravagant of you.
Alec: It was a famous victory.
Laura: Do you feel guilty at all? I do.
Laura: You ought to more than me, really. You neglected your work this afternoon.
Alec: I worked this morning. A little relaxation never did harm to anyone. Why should I always feel guilty?
Laura: I don't know.
Alec: How organized you are!
The movie theatre's organ ascends from underneath the floor, causing Laura to exclaim: "It can't be!"
We walked back to the station together. Just as we reached the gates, he put his hand under my arm. I didn't notice it then, but I remember it now.
Laura: What's she like, your wife?
Alec: Madeleine? Small, dark, rather delicate.
Laura: How funny! I supposed she would have been fair.
Alec: Your husband. What's he like?
Laura: Medium height. Brown hair. Kindly, unemotional, and not delicate at all.
Alec: You said that proudly.
Laura: Did I?
They share a cup of tea and fresh Banbury buns at a corner table in the railway station's refreshment room before their trains depart in opposite directions. He admits to being a social idealist - combined with boyish, youthful enthusiasm for his occupation in preventive medicine. Slowly and imperceptibly behind their very understated British restraint and formality, the couple finds their lives are transformed by their mutual attraction, with intense moments of great tenderness, gentleness, and loving care:
Laura: Why did you become a doctor?
Alec: That's a long story. Perhaps because I'm a bit of an idealist.
Laura: I think all doctors ought to have ideals, really. Otherwise, their work would be unbearable.
Alec: Surely, you're not encouraging me to talk shop.
Laura: Why shouldn't you talk shop? It's what interests you most, isn't it?
Alec: Yes, it is. I'm terribly ambitious really, not ambitious for myself so much as for my special pigeon.
Laura: What is your special pigeon?
Alec: Preventive medicine.
Laura: I see.
Alec: I'm afraid you don't.
Laura: I was trying to be intelligent.
Alec: Most good doctors, especially when they're young, have private dreams. That's the best part of it. Sometimes though, those get over-professionalized and strangulated...What I mean is this, all good doctors must primarily be enthusiasts. They must, like writers and painters and priests, they must have a sense of vocation. A deep-rooted, unsentimental desire to do good.
Laura: Yes, I see that.
Alec: Well, obviously one way of preventing disease is worth fifty ways of curing it. That's where my ideal comes in. Preventive medicine isn't anything to do with medicine at all, really. It's concerned with conditions, living conditions and hygeine and common-sense. For instance, my specialty is pneumoconiosis...it's nothing but a slow process of fibrosis of the lung due to the inhalation of particles of dust. In the hospital here, there are splendid opportunities for observing cures and making notes because of the coal mines.
Laura: You suddenly look much younger.
Alec: Do I?
Laura: Almost like a little boy.
Alec: What made you say that?
Laura (as the lyrical Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto plays in the background): I don't know. Yes I do.
Alec: Tell me.
Laura: No, I couldn't really. You were saying about the coal mines.
Alec: Oh yes. The inhalation of coal dust...
They look intently into each other's eyes and the music builds, as Alec recites various forms of lung disease and his idealistic dedication to his medical profession. Their conversation comes to an end when Alec's train bell sounds. Hastily, Alec initiates further meetings ("Shall I see you again?"). They make plans to continue seeing other, not by chance any more but in planned meetings during Thursday rendezvous that eventually become less and less innocent:
Laura: It's been so very nice. I've enjoyed my afternoon enormously.
Alec: I'm so glad. So have I. I apologize for boring you with long medical words.
Laura: I feel dull and stupid not to be able to understand more.
Alec: Shall I see you again?
Laura (not answering his question): It's out on the platform, isn't it? You have to run. Don't bother about me. Mine's not due for a few minutes.
Alec: Can I see you again?
Laura: Yes, of course. Perhaps you'll come out to Ketchworth one Sunday. It's rather far, but we should be delighted...
Alec: Please, please.
Laura: What is it?
Alec: Next Thursday, the same time.
Laura: No, I couldn't possibly.
Alec: Please. I ask you most humbly.
Laura: You'll miss your train.
Alec: All right.
Alec (extending his hand): Goodbye.
Laura: I'll be there.
Alec: Thank you, my dear.
Following their third meeting together (after meeting a month earlier), they cheerfully wave to each other as Alec's train departs. Laura ponders every action Alec may make as he returns home - but then a wave of doubt sweeps over her as she struggles with her romantic yearnings:
I stood there and watched his train draw out of the station. I stared after it, until its tail light had vanished into the darkness. I imagined him getting out at Churley, giving up his ticket, walking back through the streets, letting himself into his house with his latchkey. His wife Madeleine, will probably be in the hall to meet him, or perhaps upstairs in her room, not feeling very well. Small, dark, and rather delicate. I wondered if he'd say: 'I met such a nice woman at the Kardomah. We had lunch and went to the pictures.' And then suddenly, I knew that he wouldn't. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that he wouldn't say a word - and at that moment, the first awful feeling of danger swept over me. (The steam from her arriving train hisses at her.)
In the train compartment on the trip home, she guiltily wonders about the other passengers, squirming and averting her eyes when she senses that a clergyman across from her may perceive her sinful blushing:
I looked hurriedly around the carriage, to see if anyone was looking at me, as if they could read my secret thoughts. No one was, except a clergyman in the opposite corner. I felt myself blushing and opened my library book and pretended to read.
Tormented, she buries her frustrated longing and vows never to see Alec again. She blames herself for neglecting her obligations at home when she returns and finds that her child has been hurt in an accident:
By the time I got to Ketchworth, I'd made up my mind definitely that I wasn't going to see Alec anymore...I walked up to the house quite briskly and cheerfully. I'd been behaving like an idiot admittedly, but after all, no harm had been done. You met me in the hall. Your face was strained and worried and my heart sank.
Her young boy was knocked down by a car on his way home from school and suffered a "slight concussion." She hovers over his bed, terrified and imagining being punished for straying from society's conventions and neglecting family responsibilities:
I felt so dreadful, Fred, looking at him lying there with that bandage round his head. I tried not to show it, but I was quite hysterical inside, as though the whole thing were my fault, a sort of punishment, an awful sinister warning.
An hour or two later however, Bobbie felt better and "reveled in the fact that he was the center of attraction." In front of the domestic hearth fire while Fred stolidly works on another crossword puzzle, they discuss options for Bobbie's future - a career in the distant navy or in a nearby office where she can "see him off on the 8:50 every morning." Suddenly, Laura spins around and confesses her rendezvous with Alec, but her kindly, unquestioning husband is more interested in his crossword puzzle than in her. He misunderstands her worries about her new acquaintance:
Laura: I had lunch with a strange man today and he took me to the movies.
Fred: Good for you.
Laura: He's awfully nice. He's a doctor.
Fred: A very noble profession.
Laura: Oh dear.
Fred: It was Richard the Third who said: 'My kingdom for a horse,' wasn't it?
Laura: Yes, darling.
Fred: Yes, well I wish to goodness he hadn't, 'cause it spoils everything.
Laura: I felt perhaps we might ask him to dinner one night.
Fred: By all means. Who?
Laura: Dr. Harvey. The one I was telling you about.
Fred: Must it be dinner?
Laura: Well, you're never at home for lunch.
Laura: Oh Fred (laughing)...
Fred: Now what on earth's the matter?
Laura: It's nothing...oh Fred...
Fred: I really don't see what's so frightfully funny.
Laura: Oh, I do. It's, it's all right darling. I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing at me. I'm the one that's funny. I'm an absolute idiot. Worrying myself about things that don't exist and making mountains out of molehills.
Fred: I told you when you came in that it was nothing serious. There was nothing to get into such a state about.
Laura: I do see that now, I really do (more elated laughing).
The next Thursday, a dutiful Laura rationalizes a fourth meeting with Dr. Harvey, and then realizes how melancholy she feels by his unexpected absence:
When Thursday came, I went to meet Alec, more as a matter of politeness than for any other reason. It didn't seem very important, but after all, I had promised. I managed to get the same table, I waited a bit but he didn't come. The ladies' orchestra was playing away as usual. I looked at the cellist. She had seemed to be so funny last week. Today she didn't seem funny any more. What a pathetic poor thing. After lunch, I happened to pass by the hospital. I remember looking up at the windows and wondering if he were there, or was there something awful that happened to prevent him turning up. I got to the station earlier than usual. I hadn't enjoyed the pictures much. It was one of those noisy musical things that I'm so sick of them. I'd come out before it was over. As I took my tea to the table, I suddenly wondered if I'd made a mistake - that he'd meant me to meet him there.
At the train station, Laura is amused while watching the banterings and adolescent flirtations of the British working-class relationship between the hostess and the station guard. The 5:40 bell rings to warn of her approaching train, and she is worried and desperate that Alec is failing to show:Suddenly, Alec races toward the station, as frantic to see her as she is to see him - the poignancy of the moment is loudly underscored by Rachmaninoff's concerto, drowning out his explanation for being late. It is at this juncture that they both realize they have fallen in love. She rushes with him under the tracks to the door of his departing train, her face beaming:
As I left the refreshment room, I saw a train coming in, his train. He wasn't on the platform, and I suddenly felt panic-stricken at the thought of not seeing him again.
Alec: I'm so glad I had a chance to explain. I didn't think I'd see you again.
Laura: Enough said, now go quickly, quickly.
Alec (on board the moving train): Next Thursday?
Laura: Yes, next Thursday.
Alec: Thursday. Goodbye.
For their fifth meeting (in six weeks) on a Thursday, they first attend the Milford Cinema and sit in the balcony a second time. They view a humorous cartoon of loveable Donald Duck, exhibiting "his dreadful energy and his blind frustrated rages." When the main picture "Flames of Passion" begins (a film fantasy that will work its magic upon them - especially upon Laura who lives a life of romantic fantasy), Alec warns of the fresh stimulation of their emotions which will result:
It's the big picture now. Here we go. No more laughter. Prepare for tears.
[Screen credits reveal that the fictitious film is "Based on the Novel 'Gentle Summer' by Alice Porter Stoughey." In parallel fashion, Laura's imagination is highly-charged and passionate, while the reality of her brief encounter is more commonplace and low-key.] They leave the theatre, stand outside, and then decide to go to the park - an invigorating interlude in a naturalistic, but drab setting (the first time they break away from their emotionally-constrained, stunted environment). In the Botanical Gardens, where boys sail boats on the lake and white swans swim on the water's surface, they rent a boat for the day, even though the boats are "covered up":
It was a terribly bad picture. We crept out before the end, rather furtively, as though we were committing a crime. The usherette at the door looked at us with stony contempt. It was a lovely afternoon. It was a relief to be in the fresh air. We decided we'd go to the Botanical Gardens. Do you know, I believe we should all behave quite differently if we lived in a warm, sunny climate all the time? We shouldn't be so withdrawn and shy and difficult. Oh Fred, it really was a lovely afternoon. There were some little boys sailing their boats - one of them looked awfully like Bobbie. That should have given me a pang of conscience I know, but it didn't. I was enjoying myself, enjoying every single minute. Alec suddenly said that he was sick of staring at the water and that he wanted to be on it. All the boats were covered up, but we managed to persuade the old man to let us have one. He thought we were raving mad. Perhaps he was right. Alec rowed off at a great rate, and I trailed my hand in the water. It was very cold but a lovely feeling...
Alec admits his lack of rowing experience and advises that she steer their directionless rowboat: "And unless you want to go round and round in ever-narrowing circles, you'd better start steering." They let the flow of the water take them along its course, until they figuratively and physically bump into a man-made barrier under a stone bridge (a symbol of the narrow obstacles in their repressive environments and private lives).