Tragic Love and Swoony Music

Brief Encounter

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2, played by Australian pianist Eileen Joyce in the famous ending of Brief Encounter.

From Jeremy Paxman’s 1998 The English: A Portrait of a People:

Take David Lean’s 1945 tale of forbidden love, Brief Encounter. The couple meet in the tearoom of a railway station, where she is waiting for the steam train home after a day’s shopping. A speck of coal dirt gets caught in her eye and, without a word of introduction, the gallant local doctor steps forward and removes it. The following eighty minutes of this beautifully written movie depict their deepening love and guilt each feels about it. …

As Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto comes and goes in the background, their affair unfolds, measured out in cups of tea in the waiting room of Milford station. … Being English, Celia Johnson feels no animosity towards her husband, whom she considers “kindly and unemotional”. Trevor Howard, equally trapped in a dry marriage, also expresses no hostility towards his wife and children. But the two of them are in the force of a passion they can hardly control. “We must be sensible,” is the constant refrain. “If we control ourselves, there’s still time.” In the end, despite all the protestations of undying devotion, the romance remains unconsummated…

What does this most popular of English films tell us about the English?

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