Brief Encounter (1974) – Film Review
By Sarah Morgan
The first thing to consider when thinking about the 1974 version of Brief Encounter, is why anybody would bother making it in the first place. After all, the original was a classic, directed with skill and sensitivity by David Lean from a screenplay by the peerless Noel Coward and featured two of the most moving performances ever committed to celluloid.
Nevertheless, Sir Lew Grade went ahead and backed this bizarre endeavour; whether he lived to regret it remains unknown. One person who did have the sense to drop out of the project was Robert Shaw, who was originally cast as Alec Harvey. Shaw was offered twice as much money to appear in his film Jaws instead, so he jumped ship, so to speak.
Richard Burton was drafted in at the last minute to replace him, and to be fair, pairing the gravelly voiced Welshman with the still-sexy Sophia Loren seems like a good idea on paper. However, in reality, it’s a pretty lacklustre pairing – and whoever told Burton he’d look better if he dyed his hair must have been off his rocker. Presumably it was meant to make him appear younger or in better health, but it’s so obvious it’s distracting.
The bare bones of the original story remain – Alec and Anna (Loren) meet at a train station when he removes a piece of grit from her eye. They continue to bump into each other and gradually fall in love, despite being married to other people.
As with the original, it’s all done very politely, although we see more of the characters’ home lives this time. She’s bored but likes her husband, while he simply doesn’t love his wife. Sadly, it’s all so dull that nobody really cares.
Some of the lines are, however, unintentionally hilarious, including the moment Alec and Anna realise they’re in love – they both get misty-eyed as he describes various kinds of dust and the illnesses they can cause. Yes, really.
Director Alan Bridges had a strong pedigree in TV before tackling the project and went on to make the far superior The Shooting Party; writer John Bowen’s career followed a similar path, so it’s hard to work out what went wrong. Perhaps the mix of Lean and Coward, alongside stars Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard was simply cinematic magic that couldn’t be repeated.