Errand-running housewife Celia Johnson (lovestruck daughter in The Holly and the Ivy) is helped out by Trevor Howard (deposed captain in Mutiny on the Bounty). They get to talking, and eventually it’s a weekly appointment, then outings to movies and the park, a gradual love affair. Both are married, and they finally break it off when he’s offered a job in Africa. After a messy parting at the train station where they first met, interrupted by a shrill acquaintance, Celia returns home to her boring life at home. Her husband: “You’ve been a long way away… thank you for coming back to me.” Katy doesn’t approve of affairs, didn’t find it too romantic.
Billy Wilder found Alec’s friend, who loans the flat, so interesting that he made an entire film about just such a character: The Apartment. … Brief Encounter is also the principal link between the small-scale films of Lean’s early career with the widescreen epics of his final phase. The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Ryan’s Daughter, and A Passage to India each have central characters who are prone to a dreamy romanticism which borders on hysteria and hallucination. … Condemning Laura to a life of conformity and emotional suppression, Lean sets his own course towards the far horizon, where the English go out in the midday sun. Brief Encounter is not only Lean’s finest statement on the suffocating world into which he was born; it is also his train ticket out.
But after [a flop preview], the film opened more widely, and a miracle happened. The public embraced it, people went to see it again and again, and it broke box-office records. In New York, it ran for eight months, and Johnson was not only voted best actress by the New York critics, she was nominated for an Oscar. David became the first director of a British film since Korda to be nominated, and he, Neame, and Havelock-Allan were also nominated for the screenplay.