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.