Flames of Passion is a British film from 1938. I’ve seen the trailer but I’ve never actually seen the film and that’s kind of a shame because it’s a really good trailer. Not only does it feature romance and adventure but it’s apparently based on a novel called Gentle Summer. As someone who is fascinated by the power of a good title, I have to give credit to whoever changed that one. Flames of Passion is far more intriguing than Gentle Summer.
Another reason that I want to see Flames of Passion is because it was apparently “Epoch-Making!!!” In fact, they say so right in the trailer:
Unfortunately, I’ll never get a chance to actually see Flames of Passion. As you probably already guessed, it’s a fictional film. (I’m going to guess that “Epoch-Making” gave it away.) It’s a fake film that plays a very important role in real film, the 1945 classic Brief Encounter.
Taking place in Britain shortly before the start of World War II, Brief Encounter tells the story of two people. Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) is respectable, middle class, and middle aged. Every Thursday, she takes the train into a nearby town where she does the shopping and catches a matinee. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) is a doctor who rides the train every Thursday so that he can help out at a local hospital. Dr. Harvey volunteers at the hospital because that’s the type of person that he is. He also volunteers, one Thursday, to help Laura get a piece of dirt out of her eye.
The next Thursday, Laura and Alec run into each other again. They have coffee. A week later, they have lunch. A week after that, they go to the movies and they see the trailer for Flames of Passion. Laura and Alec enjoy each other’s company and they quickly find themselves growing very close to one another. The only problem is that, occasionally, Laura’s friends see the two of them together. Laura knows how quickly gossip can be spread.
Actually, that’s not the only problem. There’s actually an even bigger problem that neither Laura nor Alec know how to deal with. Both of them are married and both of them have children. In fact, Laura would appear to have the type of life that a lot of people would envy. She has a nice home. She has wonderful children. She has a husband named Fred (Cyril Raymond) and there’s no doubt that Fred loves her. Fred’s a good man but he’s boring, safe, and set-in-his-ways. He’s the type who, when Laura mentions that she’s made a male friend and that she goes to the movies with him, barely looks up from the newspaper.
What is Laura to do? She soon finds that her life is now centered around those Thursday meetings with Alec but are they worth the risk of losing her family? And when Alec tells her that he’s been offered a job in South Africa, Laura realizes that she will soon no longer even have Thursday to which to look forward.
Brief Encounter is an interesting film. From the minute that Alec and Laura meet, you know that they’re destined to fall for each other but nothing else about the film plays out in the way that you would expect it to. As much as being a love story, it’s also a story about two people who have reached a point in their lives where they’ve reached the halfway mark of their lives and now they’re asking, “Is this it?” It’s not just that Laura is attracted to Alec, though she certainly is. It’s also that she knows that Alec represents what is probably her last chance to do something grand and romantic with her life. Once Alec leaves, it’ll mean accepting her life as it is, with the good and the bad things that go along with it.
The film’s dialogue is as erudite and witty as you would expect from a cinematic adaptation of a Noel Coward play and David Lean keep the action moving along at a brisk pace. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are absolutely perfect as the two would-be lovers, with Johnson especially giving a powerful and sympathetic performance. (If you don’t tear up during Laura’s final scene with Alec, you may want to check to see if you have a heart.) It helps that neither one of them was a traditionally glamorous movie star. (Trevor Howard may have been handsome but he was no Cary Grant.) They come across as being very real people and it’s easy to imagine them being very happy together. They’re such decent people that they even feel guilty for walking out on Flames of Passion, which Laura apparently did not feel was a particularly good movie. Watching Brief Encounter, you wish that Alec and Laura could have met earlier but you are happy that they at least had their Thursdays.