Brief Encounter | 1945
Though its its view of stiff upper-lipped Englishness has been derided by some, David Lean’s adaptation of Noël Coward’s one-act play Still Life survives as a timeless classic of repressed emotion, and the understated heartbreak of its final scenes has never been bettered.
Supposedly set in ‘Kent’, southeast England, ‘Milford Junction’ railway station, where the comfortably married Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) meets Dr Alex Harvey (Trevor Howard) for chastely clandestine afternoons, was Carnforth in Lancashire, about five miles north of Lancaster in the far northwest, now Carnforth Station and Visitor Centre.
Carnforth ceased to be a mainline station in 1970 and fell into disrepair, however a massive renovation programme saw it restored – and the visitor centre opened in 2003. There’s now a Brief Encounter exhibition dedicated to the film and the actors.
The Albert Halton Room commemorates Carnforth’s contribution to the First and Second World Wars, and there are other exhibitions exploring the social history of Carnforth residents, as well as the railway itself.
Though the mainline Platform 1, from which Laura nearly takes a dive under the boat train, has gone, you’ll recognise the tunnels and the curving platform, where Alex and Laura share tearful partings. The original 19th century clock, made by Joyce of Whitchurch, still hangs above the platform entrance.
The Refreshment Room (the interior of which was, for the film, recreated in the studio atDenham, Buckinghamshire) has been lovingly restored to resemble the film set. Once again you can enjoy a bun and a cup of tea – or a home-made hot meal. You can also peek in to the Stationmaster’s Office, where Celia Johnson kept warm during the long night shoots.
Carnforth was chosen because of its distance from the German airfields and the subsequent relaxation of the blackout regulations so far north (this was early 1945). You can plainly see station signs with the names of northern towns in the film. The lugubrious voice of the station announcer, by the way, is writer Noël Coward himself.
The rest of the film really was shot in the Home Counties. ‘Milford High Street’ can be found in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. The barrel organ “on the corner by Harris’s” plays on Station Parade, alongside Beaconsfield Station, and Laura bumps into Alex outside Boots, a few hundred yards south on Burke’s Parade.
The cinema where the couple see the trailer for Flames of Passion was the old Metropole picture house, 160 Victoria Street, Victoria, London (most of the frontage has been retained, but it’s now a branch of Italian restaurant chain Ask), though the deco exterior seen in the film was an entrance to the old Denham Studios, since demolished, on the North Orbital Road, in the village of Denham, Buckinghamshire.
The boating lake, though, is slap in the middle of London’s Regent’s Park. You can see the Long Bridge, to which Alex clings, in the bird sanctuary in the centre of the park, northwest of the Inner Circle opposite the entrance to the Open Air Theatre.