Always to the End of My Days.

From the moment she tilts her head
in its rakish peaked beret
and he dips in his clean white doctor’s
hankie (laundered by his wife)
to remove the famous piece of grit-
You know her heart’s been filch’d
as surely as if he’d streaked her lid
with a drop of Puck’s juice: enough
to guarantee, had he been an ass
(or pard or boar with bristled hair) –
she still would’ve fallen in love with him.
– Poem by Lynne Alexander, Summer 2004

It was raining, faintly. As I walked into Carnforth train station, the sky was a murky grey and clouds consumed. There was nothing special about the weather. There was something special about that particular train station though. Something very special. This Saturday afternoon was poignant. It was the day I finally entered that famous refreshment room and stood on the platform, almost hoping to get a piece of grit in my eye. Yes, I was finally visiting the famous set of the stunningly tragic Brief Encounter; David Lean’s cinematic masterpiece from 1945. Taken from Sir Noël Coward’s original short play, this film explores the despair of two individuals who are both happily married with children, who meet by chance and, by chance, fall desperately in love with one another. A film that explores every corner of loyalty, honour and betrayal, Brief Encounter is a film that emphasises the importance of commitment, despite the anguish it can cause when challenged. A film that studies the desires of the human heart in such avid detail that you can not deny its cinematic bravery and boldness. The film takes place mainly within Carnforth train station and throughout the film our love struck protagonists are seen running, embracing and yearning up and down the platforms. Other scenes, including those that take place in the station’s refreshment room were filmed on movie sets. However, the film’s refreshment room setting was in fact based vividly upon that of Carnforth’s actual refreshment room.

 

 

At first it was disappointing to realise you weren’t sitting in the very spot where Celia Johnson sat whilst enthralling everybody on set with her performance of the vulnerable Laura. Then again, it hardly mattered to me. I was there and so were the characters, they felt embedded in the tables and chairs. I am fully aware of how foolish that sounds; these chairs could have been bought in the last decade, I know. However, something about ordering a cup of tea from that counter, despite the waitress baring no resemblance to the sweet natured Beryl, gave me a thrill. Finally, I was understanding the characters and feeling the true atmosphere of the film. As I sipped my cup of tea, I glanced around at the still movie shots that were framed on the wall and let my imagination take over.

Once we were fully refreshed, and the reminiscing over our favourite scenes and sections of script had sufficed, my mother, my dear friend Lesley and I explored the rest of the station’s tributes to the film. We hurried down corridors like giddy school children, amused by the old fashioned luggage that was placed at every other turn to create a certain ambience. It is fair to say that such an atmosphere was somewhat destroyed by the voice of Michael Buble that was constantly leaking from a speaker in the wall. Loud conversations, being had on mobile phones, were also a little distracting and my imaginary world was completely destroyed when a rather moody adolescent in his grubby ‘Converse’ trainers slumped past whilst his Grandmother was lecturing him, loudly, on the film and its brilliance. The poor boy was doing his best to show some form of interest but his patience was clearly wearing thin.

The highlight of the trip was most certainly the screening room. Simply because I could sit and fall in love with the film all over again. With several cinema-like chairs placed in front of a screen, Brief Encounter played on. Some people sat and watched mere minutes of the film and others becoming completely engrossed and never seemed to want to leave their seats. The room’s charm came from the photographic displays that filled the walls and the books and memorabilia that were scattered throughout a large glass cabinet. The most moving piece was in the form of a letter that Celia Johnson wrote home whilst filming on the station. Now, not only was I really getting to know and appreciate the characters but I felt I was learning a lot about the cast themselves. Trevor Howard’s brief biography was displayed on a wall and was highly amusing. I found myself becoming increasingly interested in the articles and information on Lean himself, as a director.

One of the highlights of the trip was a small exhibition that was dedicated to movie posters and art work. It was a small and suprisingly interesting little distraction that only added to the success of the entire day. One of my discoveries included this local shop that looked suspiciously like an old cinema…
Unfortunately, I can not find any photographic evidence of the cinema in its prime. However, it most certainly was a cinema; ‘Roxy Cinema’ infact. It once had the capacity to seat almost eight hundred people. The cinema was running from the mid nineteen twenties until the mid nineteen sixties. A humble discovery I must admit, but a discovery all the same. After leaving the train station we ventured into Carnforth where I found myself engrossed in several film books in a delightful, and highly stocked, second hand book shop. I left with two new books, a Woody Allen bibliography and a photograph filled hardback book about the ‘Hollywood Greats’. I also came home with the following delightful souvenirs from the gift shop.
The day came to a perfect conclusion as we returned home, had another cup of tea and cried a little bit through ‘A Profile of Brief Encounter’, a stunning little documentary all about the film and the making of it. Brief Encounter is now even more firmly rooted as my favourite film. The romance and despair of those characters breaks my heart every single time and I highly encourage any fan of the film to visit Carnforth Station Heritage Centre. Even a short visit will reconfirm your love and fondness of this acutely British and undoubtedly moving masterpiece.
Here, in this short clip from the documentary, is one of the film’s producers, Ronald Neame explaining the power of Brief Encounter.

 

Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.

 

 

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