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Brief Encounter - Love and EthicsBrief Encounter - Love and Ethics


Brief Encounter (1946)


Famous for...

  • An unconsummated love affair between two married people, Laura (Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard), during seven weeks in the late 1930’s in suburban Surrey, near London.
  • The grit in Laura’s eye leading to her meeting with Alec at Milford Station (filmed at Carnforth Station in Lancashire, England).
  • The musical score from Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics


Based on...

The 1935 play, Still Life, by Noel Coward, the film’s producer (pictured right).


DirectorBrief Encounter - Love and Ethics

David Lean (pictured right), also the film’s co-writer and director of The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.



None but three nominations for

  • best director.
  • best actress (Celia Johnson).
  • best screenplay.

Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics 

Key characters

Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), English housewife - pictured right.

Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), handsome doctor.

Fred Jesson (Cyril Raymond), Laura’s husband.


The story

Laura Jesson, a housewife, and Alec Harvey, a doctor, are both married and each has two children. Laura sadly recalls their last conversation.Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics

On returning home, she remembers their meeting at Milford station after her weekly shopping and film trip. She gets some grit in her eye from a passing express train and Alec removes it in the station tea room (pictured right).

The next week they meet by chance, and the week after that they begin to fall in love when they accidentally share a table for lunch and go to the cinema.

In the station tea room, he describes his idealistic passion for preventive medicine. Her guilt about Alec is increasing, particularly when her son is slightly hurt in a car accident, whilst she is away in Milford.

But Laura is

  • still sad when Alec unavoidably misses a restaurant meal.
  • delighted when he arrives at the tea room just before she goes home.

A week later they:Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics

  • row a boat in the park (pictured right).
  • passionately kiss for the first time (after declaring their love for each other).

But Laura feels guilty again, when she lies to Fred (her husband) about going to the cinema with a friend, Mary Norton, rather than Alec.

The next week they go to an expensive hotel for a champagne lunch, but Laura again has to lie about Alec, when she sees Mary Norton.

They drive into the country and then Laura reluctantly agrees to go to the apartment of Alec’s friend, Stephen Lynn, who arrives unexpectedly.


  • leaves by the back door (ashamed about her intention to make love). Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics
  • telephones Fred (telling him she will miss dinner because she is seeing the librarian, Miss Lewis).

Alec tells her at the station that he is going to work in Johannesburg in South Africa to try to forget their love affair.

Their last meeting consists of another ride in the country. Their final farewell  in the station tea room (pictured right) is interrupted by Dolly (Laura’s friend), but they agree to remember each other for ever.Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics

She recalls that only lack of courage stopped her committing suicide in the path of the express train.

Then her flashback ends and she is back with her husband again.

He shows that he hasn’t been totally oblivious to her unhappiness by thanking her for “coming back to me”. She weeps in his arms (pictured right).


Lessons for love and ethics

 Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics

1. Duty before desire

Laura puts her family and conscience before her love for Alec, despite “walking on air” after their first kiss.

She says to him:

“Other things matter, too, self-respect matters and decency”.


2. Love comes from friendship and self-respect

Laura and Alec’s love comes from friendship, not sex. They:Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics

  • have much in common.
  • like and respect each other.

She particularly admires his:

  • kindness.
  • passionate idealism.
  • ability to make her feel someone special (unlike her husband, Fred, who sees her only as a housewife).

 Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics

3. Love your work

Laura is unfulfilled as a housewife, but Alec is excited about medicine, telling her that:

  • “all good doctors must primarily be enthusiasts” with a...
  • “deep-rooted, unsentimental desire to do good”.


4. Make the most of your lifeBrief Encounter - Love and Ethics

Laura observes that life is short, making her determined to:

  • always keep Alec alive in her memory.
  • start anew with Fred and her children.
  • develop as a person independent of her family.


5. Some things are best left unsaidBrief Encounter - Love and Ethics

Laura decides not to tell Fred about Alec, because it would hurt him too much.


6. Nobody’s perfect

Fred is boring but reliable and eventually supportive.

Alec is charismatic, but Laura doesn’t know him well enough to discover his faults!

 Brief Encounter - Love and Ethics

7. Be honest

Laura is ashamed about lying to Fred.

“It’s awfully easy to lie when you’re trusted implicitly”, she says.


Key quotes on love and relationships

Other things matter, too, self-respect matters and decency, Laura (to Alec).

But, oh Fred, I’ve been so foolish. I’ve fallen in love. I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people” (Laura narrating – Fred can’t hear).

It’s awfully easy to lie when you’re trusted implicitly, Laura.


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)


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