A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Strength and courage are on display in resisting temptation and putting loved ones first. The movie suggests that acting in your own interests doesn't always bring happiness. It also shows that things are not always straightforward and good people sometimes act in ways they are not proud, yet can move on from that to do the right thing. A near extramarital affair is integral to the story.
Positive Role Models
Though Laura and Alec lie and cheat on their partners, they are seen to suffer and feel guilt and shame. They briefly give in to temptation, but ultimately put their own desires aside for the sake of others. Gender roles are a reflection of the time, though Laura is portrayed as independent and keen to pay her way.
Violence & Scariness
Reference is made to a kid being hit by a car and they are seen with a bandaged head. A character expresses a desire to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train but does not act on it. There is a passing joke about a doctor killing patients. A movie within the movie shows someone tied up with flames beneath them.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Two characters are clearly attracted to each other and are in constant battle with themselves as to whether to embark on an affair with each other. Kissing and hugging are shown on numerous occasions, but never with the indication of further physical contact, and always fully clothed.
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Products & Purchases
There are scenes inside shops, and purchases made, including an expensive clock. Money is referenced a few times, with characters choosing to splash out on expensive drinks and movie theater seats.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Characters smoke frequently. They also drink alcohol -- including, brandy, wine, and champagne -- on a number of occasions. There is mention of administering a sedative within a medical context.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Brief Encounter is a classic British romantic drama set in 1940s England and centers on an extramarital affair, and the resulting feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. Having met by chance at a train station, housewife Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey's (Trevor Howard) relationship is more emotional than physical, though kissing and hugging are shown. Typical of the time period depicted, characters regularly smoke cigarettes. They are also seen drinking alcohol in a number of scenes. Suicide is referenced, with a character expressing a desire to jump in front of a train, but she stops herself. A kid is seen with a bandaged head following a car accident, but there is little violence beyond that. Rendered in black and white, the film is an old-fashioned romance that will appeal to adults and older children more than younger viewers, who may find its lack of action fails to hold their attention. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
For a movie where it appears that very little happens, this classic 1940s British romantic drama packs an almighty emotional punch. At the center of Brief Encounter is a relatively chaste relationship that is never allowed to fully ignite, indicative of the moral restrictions of the time period. But the underlying tension between goodness, stability, and responsibility, and the unruly temptations of romance and passion are universal and timeless. If the film were remade today, no doubt more physical intimacy might be used to indicate the intensity of the affair. Yet director David Lean's desire to express with longing looks and desperate swoons show just how easily an emotion can turn from a lightheaded flutter to a stab in the heart when the outside world comes crashing in. It's what makes this such an iconic film.
Both central performances are strong, but it is Johnson's Oscar-nominated turn as Laura that really keeps the story on track. The primness of her demeanor deftly at odds with the urgency in her eyes, and her conflicted and painful voiceover acting as the confession to her husband that she knows she will never really deliver, is captivating. It's a film where not a lot happens, yet so much is explored, and is an enduring love story that puts many less-nuanced modern romances to shame.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.