Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why a remake of "Brief Encounter" would be even briefer

I watched "Brief Encounter" again this morning and can report it's lost none of its power. They've remade just about every other classic film from the golden age but not this one. It must have passed through some agent's mind. With Kate Winslet, maybe, and possibly Hugh Laurie. But then they will have screened it and realised immediately it would be impossible. The film turns on the question of whether happily-married but bored Home Counties lady Laura will cheat on her husband with the equally-married Alec. Here's a key exchange.
Alec: We know we really love each other. That's true. That's all that really matters.
Laura: It isn't all that really matters. Other things matter too. Self-respect matters and decency.
A contemporary audience wouldn't have any patience with Laura. It would demand that she surrendered immediately. It would probably regard her insistence on decency as another word for hypocrisy. To expedite proceedings the scriptwriters would probably give her an alibi in the shape of an abusive husband. The dilemma would be dissolved in no time. The film would last fifteen minutes, tops.


  1. And have you seen the state of Carnforth Station these days?

  2. Hot dang, I wish you were right but they did remake it: (you're almost right, it was awful, despite the cast).

  3. Victoria Wood did a parody remake in which Laura was a lesbian.

  4. Anonymous10:55 am

    And Falling In Love with De Niro and Streep was a virtual remake too, relocated to US suburbia - though despite another starry cast that was forgettable too.

  5. Shouldn't be hard to write a dilemma a modern audience could understand.

    Maybe she's a bit of a WAG and the first husband is a rich footballer and the second a jobless layabout who she actually really likes.

  6. WW: didn't know about that. Interesting to note it was for TV and I can't help thinking the casting of Richard Burton, who was famous for marrying five times, was "against type".
    Michael: Re: the lesbian parody. I was thinking while watching it that it was written by a gay man (Noel Coward) in the days of "the love that dare not speak its name". This probably makes it even more authentic.

  7. Didn't they remake Brief Encounter as Fatal Attraction?

  8. There's a story that on set Trevor Howard asked David Lean (during the scene in his friend's apartment): "Why doesn't he just fuck her?"

  9. There speaks the Trevor Howard that we are probably most familiar with. It's to his credit that that side of him doesn't come over in the film.

  10. The best remake of it I recall was the spoof "Sudso" commercial done by Harry Enfield in his "Norbert Smith - A Life" film or (if you will) "mockumentary".

    "Oh darling, I feel so awful and ghastly and frightful and sordid and dirty"

  11. Rog comments on the state of Carnforth station and while he’s right that the main line platforms are long gone, the station has actually had a lot of money spent on it in recent years and there’s a wonderful Brief Encounter centre and café where you can sip tea and nibble rock cakes. As that café only ever existed as a film set, I understand, it’s a wonderful example of life imitating art. It’s well worth a visit though. The famous clock was restored too….whoever thought Japanese tourists would ever find Carnforth so interesting. A good off-beat feature for The Word, David? If you go north, talk to Peter Yeats, who struggled for 20 years to get this job done.

    A couple of interesting side stories, for those interested in trivia. When the film was made, David Lean wanted to capture the majesty of the human drama being played out over the teacups against the spectacular backdrop of steam expresses screaming through the (now gone) main line platforms at night. Stirring struff. The footplate crews, however, knowing what was going on, it is said, wanted to know what was going on and so it didn’t quite work. Seemingly, quite a few of Lean’s first shots were ruined by expresses crawling through in the background with both driver and fireman gawping over the cabside watching what was going on. Apparently the London Midland & Scottish Railway managers had to send out a special instruction to footplate crews ordering them NOT to slow down and gawp, rather pass through at full speed and keep out of sight. Wonderful.

    Also, movie blooper fans will doubtless enjoy the periodic glimpses of the station’s ‘next departure’ clock, standing on the platform with its fingerboards proudly directing all those ‘home counties’ passengers to ‘Trains for Hellifield, Skipton and Leeds.’

    I agree about the remake David. Just wouldn’t work. Actually I think remakes rarely do…for further evidence, take a look at the original Ealing ‘Ladykillers’ with Alec Guiness, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellars et all, which magnificently captures King’s Cross and North London of the 1950s perfectly, and the utterly ghastly remake of recent years….

    They should have left Mrs Lopsided well alone.