It was a joy to see the immaculate model locomotive Malcolm Barmby so kindly brought along to enhance the evening's steam railway theme. It is a live steam, scale model of the Princess Class as worked on the LMS mainline in the period of the film Brief Encounter. Malcolm, who is very knowledgeable about railway engineering, was present until the end of the interval to answer questions and had also brought along other historic railway items and explanatory articles of interest. We are so grateful to him for giving his time, energy and Saturday evening for our benefit.
Brief Encounter is a masterpiece on so many levels. Visually it is beautiful in its black and white splendour, which seems like a contradiction in terms as so many scenes take place on a very busy railway station when steam trains blackened and sooted everything and waste paper was blown about in the draught. To our ears now the way of speaking by the upper middle class protagonists sounds forced and stilted to the point of being laughable. The manageress of the station buffet tries to emulate the speech of her classy patrons, a part purposefully written to amuse, which draws an interesting parallel. She still achieves the original intent, whereas Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard sound so "cut glass" as to make me feel slightly uncomfortable. That aside, the story line is unmistakably timeless. Laura (Celia Johnson) finds the first lie trips easily off her tongue, and that lie inevitably leads to a bigger one and then more until she can hardly bear to look at herself in the mirror. The decision to miss her usual train for a tryst in the borrowed flat, and the fact she really intended to throw herself in front of the express train with no thought for those she would leave behind, demonstrates how entirely she has succumbed to the illicit affair. We are left wondering if Alec (Trevor Howard) had not been strong enough to take his imminent overseas working appointment, what tangled mess would have ensued.
The short, screened before the interval, was also about a liaison between a man and a woman, but in a different context. An arranged marriage between two Afghanis - the man westernised, the woman newly exposed to foreign cultures. Vulnerable by virtue of disorientation and home sickness, the woman in this film showed the greater strength of character.
There was a good discussion between the dozen or so who came together at the end of the film. The production, lighting and photography were all deemed to be cutting edge at the time, and people remarked on the echoes of earlier literature, for example Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina", and also the influence of Shakespeare, having a main story and sub plots running together; the serious relieved by the comic. The understandable aggravation of Laura's garrulous friend in the station buffet and on the train home was augmented by filming a sequence showing only her chattering mouth, making us all wish she would stop talking. Everyone enjoyed this film we had all seen many times before and are ready to see again. What greater accolade could there be?
The short film was also admired and, far from being suppressed, we felt the young woman would continue to take a leading role in her relationship with the man.