Brief Encounter (1974)
Let’s begin by stating matter of factly that it’s useless to attempt to compare this seventies version of Noel Coward’s story to the now classic 1945 film version from David Lean that I was fortunate enough to see at the TCM festival last year in Hollywood on the big screen after being introduced by Illeana Douglas. That film version starred Cecilia Johnson and Trevor Howard as the pair of unlikely lovers. This outing features full on star power with Sophia Loren and Richard Burton taking the leads in the story of an ill-fated romance.
“The memory of you. The Loving of you. Time won’t take that away.”
Having just helmed The Hireling the previous year, director Alan Bridges moved onto this production from Carlo Ponti which makes the casting of Sophia Loren all the more obvious. For the uninitiated, Ponti was Sophia’s husband from 1957 till his death in 2007. Brief Encounter was one of two films that Burton would make in the same year with Loren, the other being Vittorio De Sica’s The Voyage. This film mainly belongs to Sophia who is clearly the main focus playing a mother of two in a stale marriage that has lost it’s magic. When a chance meeting at a train station with Burton evolves into a second not so chance meeting where Burton is concerned, the pair slowly begin to fall in love thru one clandestine meeting after another.
It’s a series of “brief encounters” as the pair meet over lunch hours outside their work and innocently get to know each other though both are fully aware of the direction their friendship is headed. One that could ruin the lives they currently lead and harm the loved ones around them. This is mostly from Sophia’s point of view as she’s the one with two young children and a husband who isn’t as blind to her plight as he may appear initially. Actor Jack Hedley takes on the duties of portraying Sophia’s hubby in this film that was released in North America as a made for TV outing. Based on the film posters I’ve found on line, I suspect it was a theatrical release in many other corners of the globe.
Burton on the other hand is pressing the relationship with Loren as he’s in a dead end marriage and looking for a new meaningful love. We don’t actually see his home life till the seventy minute mark of the film and it’s the only time the film will give us some insight into his home life and the relationship he has with his wife played by Ann Firbank. She’s a journalist of sorts while he’s a doctor. Admittedly there seems to be nothing left in their relationship which makes it all the easier to see how Burton has been captivated by the somewhat dressed down Loren.
Dressed down she may be but one smile from Sophia lights up the room and it isn’t hard to see why Burton becomes captivated by her. Sophia had such a talent for appearing as a sad downcast character only to breath life into her roles with a hearty laugh and smile. Not only was Burton on screen with arguably one of the most beautiful women in the world this time out but it was also filmed during the same period when he and his real life beauty Liz Taylor were nearing the end of their first marriage and on to the second one.
Burton brings to the camera that low key marvelous pitch of a voice and generally underplays the role of the love sick doctor though a couple scenes get the best of him when he tries to hold the doomed relationship together with Miss Loren.
While this version of the Coward play may not have the emotional impact of the David Lean classic, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to dismiss it out of hand due to the work and legend of the film’s two iconic leads. Should you be hoping to add this one to your library shelf of Burton and Loren titles, it is available as a double feature on DVD from ITV/Timeless Media.