What could be a more sugary chick-flick than such a story? I started watching with some trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised: the film is not sentimental at all. Brief Encounter was in fact rather "Japanese" (Ozu-like) with its understated feelings (although there are verbal declarations of love, which in the Japan of the 40s or 50s would not have happened) and the dignified decision of the protagonists not to meet again. It is all about restraint - of course, England is like Japan another island country known for its stiff upper lip. Falling deeply in love, and then to agree not to meet again in order not to destroy one's family... who in our hungry ego-tripping time where people throw away marriages like old socks, would be able to show such self-control?
There is another reason why I liked this film: it is full of trains. David lean has expertly composed the film around the waiting room at Milford Junction, where the couple has their first meeting and where they see each other every week; the platform where both have to run for their train; the express hurtling past, giving the woman after the separation a brief thought of suicide; and the great steam locomotives and beautiful train compartments carrying them home. But the waiting room is the center of the film and most important scenes take place here. There is a counter selling tea with cakes and chocolate, in real life refreshments the British at the end of the war could only dream of. On the other hand, 1946 was a time that waiting rooms in stations were still clean and decent places...
Milford Junction was really Carnforth Station, in the Lake District, selected by director David Lean because he wanted to be safe from the German V2s - the film was made in the first months of 1945 when the war was still raging. Filming could only take place when local trains were not running and actors and crew spent a lot of time waiting in the bitterly cold weather - which may have helped to create some of the film's atmosphere.
Available in the Criterion Collection.