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  Brief Encounter Middle-Aged Love
Year: 1974
Director: Alan Bridges
Stars: Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Jack Hedley, Rosemary Leach, Ann Firbank, Gwen Cherrell, Benjamin Edney, John Le Mesurier, Jumoke Debayo, Christopher Benjamin, Madeleine Hinde, David Cook, Marco Orlandini, Patricia Franklin, Jacki Harding
Genre: Drama, Romance, TV MovieBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: When Anna (Sophia Loren) was at this railway station in the English countryside one day, like many other days, she had no idea that she was going to have an encounter with local doctor Alec (Richard Burton). But this is what happened: when she got up from reading to pull a schoolboy out of the way of the express train as it whizzed by, a little grit landed in her eye from the wind, and she struggled to get rid of it. The station staff offered assistance, but the man who saved her sight was Alec, and this sparked a friendship that would be nurtured every Wednesday when they happened to meet, unbeknownst to their respective partners. Marriage would seem to have put paid to hopes of anything more, but could they realistically resist one another?

Sometimes you just can't catch a break, and when this remake of the beloved David Lean romance arrived on British television screens - it would also be a cinema release, in the UK and in various territories around the globe - the reaction was not, it was safe to say, as welcoming as the participants would have hoped for. "Disastrous" seemed to be the word that summed it up thanks to Loren and Burton doing and saying things that Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in the original would never have considered, can you imagine Dame Celia blurting "I felt like a prostitute - exposed!" when the affair was nearly revealed? Of course not, but this was the nineteen-seventies, not the end of the Second World War, and that society had moved on, with different expectations.

For the most part the TV movie kept things discreet, allowing Anna and Alec a chance to accept their attraction but not making any more moves on it other than those precious afternoons, where they go to the coast, or attend a religious mystery play (where they are spotted in the open air audience by a busybody). Yet while that was tasteful (detractors said boring), the couple made a bid to consummate their connection which Celia and Trevor never did. And as Burton unbuttons Loren's blouse and starts pawing at her decolletage, they are interrupted by none other than John Le Mesurier, the Dad's Army star here playing a sozzled doctor who throws all this into sharp relief: there was nothing romantic here, it was merely an illicit fumble and Alec's claims to great loves of his life were no more than an excuse to get inside Anna's knickers.

A very seventies take on the source - a one-act Noel Coward play named Still Life - and naturally one that would diminish it thanks to the regard restraint is held in by the 1945 film's fans, who simply did not wish to think about their favoured couple actually getting it on. This renders the 1974 version weirdly anti-romantic, as if producer Carlo Ponti was warning his (much younger) spouse Sophia about how grubby she would feel if she ever strayed from him. However, there was an issue there, as Jack Hedley played her terminally boring husband (that's right, trash fans - star of The New York Ripper himself) and failed to provide an attractive alternative to Burton, even with Richard's obvious wig and sadly, equally obvious hangover. At least Alec can deliver seductive sweet nothings to Anna, while her hubby stays at home with a list of seventies pre-internet diversions to get through (model plane building, crosswords, games of Monopoly, burning garden rubbish, and so on). This Brief Encounter had no hope of eclipsing Lean's work, but in its way, it was perhaps more realistic, uneasily so: Anna's affair has her neglecting her job as a counsellor, and nearly loses a patient to suicide (!). Seventies grimness punishes all. Music by Cyril Ornadel.

[Network's Blu-ray of this intriguing folly has both widescreen and fullscreen versions, the theatrical trailer, a gallery and subtitles as extras, all brought to you from The British Film.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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