Brief Encounter. It's one of the most iconic films in British cinema. Celia Johnson's cut-glass accent, steam trains, Rachmaninov on the soundtrack. Adored and ridiculed in equal part, it wins its place on the BFI 360 Treasures list (see my article) by its sheer professionalism and the precision with which it dissects British repression.
Richard Dyer's book is part of the BFI's series of books "BFI Film Classics" which ties-in with the Treasures list. Each book discusses one film from the list. Each has a different author and each author has a different approach. Personally, I prefer them to have a bit of production history, a bit of contemporary response and some current critical analysis. Dyer's book is a mixture of personal response and critical theory. It works.
Dyer expertly explains the film in terms of its class, race and gender issues. Even where he disagrees with someone's response to some aspect of the film he takes time to explore the issues raised. A lot of film theory uses film as a jumping off point to examine the authors own obsessions. When Dyer is doing this he makes it very clear and he never loses sight of the actual film.
The book raises some fascinating questions about the film. Do you need to be of a certain age or class, or a gay male to appreciate it? Is Trevor Howard in love or just after a shag? Is nice-guy husband Cyril Raymond actually an oppressive, authoritarian figure? Is Joyce Carey ridiculous or a strong woman who's managed to dump her husband and live life on her own terms? Perhaps most interestingly - Is Celia Johnson just making the whole thing up?
If the aim of this series of books is to make you want to watch the film again and to make that experience richer then this book succeeds triumphantly.
Price: £7.99 $12.95 (paperback)Brief Encounter: available at Amazon UK