Brief Encounter is an exploration of the repression of the British middle class. Words that keep coming up in dialogue between Laura and other characters as well as in Laura’s voiceover include “ordinary,” “uncomplicated,” and “sensible,” which emphasizes the normalcy and boredom of Laura’s everyday routine. Director David Lean’s use of actual locations and actress Celia Johnson’s natural appearance and acting style add to the cinematic realism of some of the scenes; scenes, such as in the rowboat, look as if they could be taken straight from a home movie, which also adds a level of nostalgic romanticism. And Laura’s life seems to be mundane until Alec enters the picture and disrupts her routine and repressed emotions.
Albert and Myrtle are the comic, working class foils to Alec and Laura. Albert and Myrtle’s earthier, more overt expressions of affection directly contrast Alec and Laura’s more subtle, repressed romance. In addition to adding humor to an otherwise serious movie, it seems that Lean and Coward are also advocating Albert and Myrtle’s outlook.
Before its official release, Brief Encounter had a bad preview in front of a working class audience; the audience members just couldn’t understand Laura and Alec’s repression, and some shouted at the screen for them to go ahead and kiss. (For more discussion about working class reaction to the film, see Neel14’s astute comment of my previous blog post, “Brief Encounter Part 2”.) Lean took this rejection personally and subsequently considered the film a failure. History has shown us otherwise.