1946's Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean (of Doctor Zhivago fame, which he would later direct in 1965) is a great film full of subtlety, romance and melancholia. Shot in black and white, this film is almost a signature of the 40's, as was the more popular and successful Casablanca. Without mention of World War II, this film deals with internal struggles of the heart. Cecila Johnson stars as the romantic heroine, a married woman and Trevor Howard the love interest, a married doctor. Though it's apparent they are disenchanted with their marriages and they are in love with each other, they never fully give in to a passionate affair. It's a romance that is mostly feelings and emotions, furtive glances, sighs, talk and regular meetings that are brief in a train station.
David Lean is experimenting with many techniques, particularily intimate angles and interior monologue. No film can ever top his Doctor Zhivago, but this film is at least second best and good for its time in 1946. There is a particularly impressive scene in which the lovers are interrupted and Celia Johnson's character must take a train trip with a very chatty, annoying woman friend. The older woman chatters away and we tap into Celia's thoughts. "I wish she would stop talking.. I wish she were dead" (I thought this was hilarious because we are wishing the same thing by that point)....but then she reprimands herself and comes to the conclusion, after a tiring day, that life does not last, that nothing really lasts forever, neither happiness nor despair. It's very poignant. Another reason besides the great acting and the story itself is the fact that Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, regarded as his finest, is played in this film. The dramatic, romantic storm that is the first movement, followed by a melancholy adagio, is very effective for this type of film.