TV… Brief Encounter (1974) (TV MOVIE)



An eyeful of dust…


Richard Burton and Sophia Loren are the leads in a remake of the David Lean classic about those ill-fated railway lovers.


WInchester as seen in Brief Encounter (Loren and Burton 1974), Miles Eady


In Loch Ness (1996) it was come hither looks over the haggis, neeps and tatties – read haggis, turnips and potatoes – between Ted Danson’s American zoologist and Joely Richardson’s Scottish barmaid. Now it’s come to bed eyes from a middle-aged Welsh, Richard Burton character to a similarly aged Italian woman played by Sophia Loren in a railway cafe over currant buns in the 1970s in what appears to be Winchester, England.

This torrid love affair between two characters played by two of the world’s finest acting talents develops slowly in emotionally charged scenes and meaningful dialogue. There are longing looks over cups of tea and looks of love thrown haphazardly during Burton’s medical-themed monologues and that’s from Ms Loren exuding passion Italian style.

Up until the 1970s, Winchester (and Brockenhurst) had never been so sexier Hollywood glamorous. The railway platform scenes were actually filmed at Brockenhurst Station in Brockenhurst in England.  And this TV Movie’s famous leads were reunited after appearing in the film, The Voyage (1974) and came together once more in the TV Movie Brief Encounter (1974).

And yes, this review is on the remake of David Lean’s classic romantic movie from 1945. Richard Burton and Sophia Loren in those leading roles – made famous (first) by Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard – as our star-crossed lovers, Dr Alec Harvey and Anna Jesson (originally Laura). Both characters are married to someone else but drawn together like bees and a honey pot, or here as dust comes to an eye. And yet again, I haven’t seen the original film, so it’s in your court if you have seen both films to contrast, compare and dissect these two films.

This TV Movie begins with Anna Jesson (Loren) at “Winchester station” – surrounded by kids on a school trip – and is waiting for her train home. She’s trying to read a book, but some (stage) kid – obviously trying to hogg the scene – distracts her, and then she spots a kid standing too near the track. Anna leaps up and then she whisks this other kid out of harm’s way. As she does this she gets some dust in her eye from a speeding train that whooshes by them.

The railway cafe staff are full of doom and gloom after she asks them for water to wash the dirt out of her eye. They helpfully tell her horror stories about people who were in the same predicament and lost their eyesight. Or inform her that non-sparkling water helps better than sparkling, which is always good to know. Anyway, her knight in shining armour appears in the form of an apparently older, craggy and genial Richard Burton, who gallantly sweeps over and deftly removes the offending dust. And then after introducing himself as Dr Alec Harvey, her hero catches his train home.

Anna then goes home on a different train, to her chunky cardigan wearing husband, Graham (Jack Hedley) and their two obnoxious young sons. She lives in the country and in the opposite direction to Harvey, and it’s a (possibly very long) drive home from the station. As Anna gazes out the train window, she couple gazes and looks kind of wistful as if remembering love at its most glorious, as the opening credits and title track plays for what seems like hours.

Back home after a long drive, she sends her two sons, Dominic and Alistair (Marco Orlandini and Benjamin Edney respectively) to bed immediately. Then she talks about her workday with her solicitor husband and he kind of half listens. She tells him that at her work, she interviewed and assessed a woman Mrs Gaines (Rosemary Leach) who has home and money troubles after her husband left her and this case is obviously bothering Anna as a social worker.

Anna and Alec bump into each other again in Winchester, as she’s having lunch on the town green. Alec appears from nowhere and joins her in idle chat. Then he confesses to her that he finds her kind of “exotic foreigner” as he discovers she’s a prosciutto eating Italian expat. Anna teaches him more about this Italian ham – and even spells this word for him – and it’s all kind of ironic in relation to Burton’s performance.

This unexpected meeting begins their friendship and a succession of even more meetings in that railway cafe. Both are married to others. She talks to him about her life in Naples, Italy, being an expat and how she met her husband, Graham. She makes out that Graham is an apparently unaffectionate bore but he’s intelligent. He also looks like Jeremy Clarkson.

Alec’s wife, Melanie (Ann Firbank) is a London born girl, who is “short, fat and intelligent” (she isn’t the first two, but maybe he’s comparing her to this statuesque Italian sex symbol) hates the country and its a “one sided” love. But who the loved up one is, he never tells.

By coincidence, Anna and Alec both only come to Winchester once a week to work. She works for the Citizen Advice Bureau, helping those in need. He’s a General Practitioner but he works in a weekly chest clinic at a Winchester hospital. He’s a specialist in environmental diseases, and in time as he talks about his work and as he pronounces these diseases and talks conditions with that Burton gravitas, she lovingly looks on. She thinks (in a delusional kind of way) he looks “like a little boy” (cue a bright spotlight on Burton). And to be fair I’d be like that besotted if Burton read me the phone book contents. Craggy or not.

Alec and Anna talk, walk, laugh and even skive off work to spend time together and he often visits stalks her at work to take her to lunch. However, Anna is spotted with Alec after they bunk off work to go to an outside theatre performance, by a friend of her family, Dolly. Anna feels guilty and troubled by the depth of their developing friendship. She doesn’t see Alec for a while after Dolly tells Graham she spotted Anna at the theatre.

Anna’s troubled feelings come to a head after she learns that Mrs Gaines is in hospital after she attempted suicide. She visits this woman in the hospital and Mrs Gaines tells her that her husband left her for someone else, then she confronted the other woman. Mrs Gaines was then beaten up by her estranged husband.  This all apparently happened while Anna was bunking off to be with Alec.

She and Alec meet weekly and go for idyllic walks in the country, pub lunches, skim stones and they even skinny dip and fall into (unnatural) conversations which show this actor and actress’s often Oscar-nominated (and in Loren’s case winning) talents. There are even montages of them running up and down steps in harbours and making apparently inane conversation (which is disjointed as it’s partly drowned out by the accompanying musical track).

Burton gives an in-script running commentary on the lovers’ growing emotions, starting sentences with comments like we love each other, we want to be with each other, we are lovers and that sort of thing. This is in between throwing his earnest spaniel eyed looks thrown in the direction of Anna, and as a man apparently in love with two women, he appears to have no guilt whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Graham is wearing chunky jumpers now with elbow patches. Anna bluntly asks Graham if he’s had an affair. He confesses to nearly making out with a stripper when he got drunk on a work trip, much earlier in their relationship. He then says he had sobered up then jumped out her bathroom window.

Meanwhile, Alec is getting frustrated about the lack of conversation and love from Mrs Harvey who is tall and slim. After these scenes, Alec suggests to the now confused Anna they visit a friend’s flat, which will be free for an evening…

Having not seen the original, I did enjoy watching the on-screen chemistry between Burton and Loren. As the leading characters, they carry the weight of the script brilliantly and it’s clear both were unhappy in their marriages. The script comes passionately from her and more urgently from him. But despite their differences in approach, these characters are more credible than their one-dimensional marital partners who were portrayed as dull and uninteresting. Although Hedley in his confession scene about his near affair with Anna did show a glimmer of affection towards his on-screen wife from this apparently “emotionless” man.

John Le Mesurier appears later in this TV Movie as Stephen, a fellow doctor who loans his flat to Alec. His character returns early and interrupts Alec and Anna who had just snogged their way to the bedroom and just before things get super intimate. Stephen is drunk, and as she sneaks out of the bedroom, Stephen finds little hints about what Alec needed his flat for. He implies that he knows that he was entertaining a woman on finding her coat and handbag. It’s a fun comic scene in the midst of the drama and a deliciously fun drunk performance from Le Mesurier.

Richard Burton was a last minute replacement for Robert Shaw who chose to make Jaws (1975) instead. Sterling Hayden was also originally in the running as this lead, but it seems Sophia Loren was always in mind for the leading lady. Burton plays every scene with an urgent performance filled with gravitas as if this couple will never meet again. Happily, he does get to Burtonsplain their emotions and those medical ailments, but there is little of his wonderful flowery words. This dialogue is instead given to Loren, who shines in her character’s stories about Italy and her childhood.

And it’s like other films from this time, with an in-film tourist guide to Winchester’s (and Brockenhurst’s) famous landmarks from the time this couple meet. And just two years later Sophia Loren was on track for another train-related romance. This was in a film with another future The Wild Geese (1978) leading man and this time it was with Richard Harris in The Cassandra Crossing (1976).

And it seems that she could have made a romantic film encounter with all three Wild Geese acting leads. But sadly a role originally for Loren in The Lucky Touch (1975), went to Susannah York instead, and for Sophia Loren, this was a missed crossing of on-screen paths with Roger Moore…


Weeper Rating 😦😦 😦😦 😦😦 😦😦/10

Handsqueeze Rating 🙂 🙂 🙂  🙂 🙂 /10

Hulk Rating:  mrgreen‎‎ mrgreen ‎‎‎ mrgreen/10


Cinema Shame April 2022

This film was added to my Cinema Shame Posts for 2022. Other films with this cast include  Richard Burton stars in Anne of the Thousand Days HERE in a short post and HERE in a more detailed one, Where Eagles DareThe Medusa TouchThe Wild Geese and his blogathon HERE. Sophia Loren in The Cassandra Crossing. Jack Hedley in Only Fools and Horses. Rosemary Leach in A Room with a View. Ann Firbank in Eastenders, Space 1999 and Asylum. John Le Mesurier in Worzel Gummidge and The Morecambe and Wise Show

17 thoughts on “TV… Brief Encounter (1974) (TV MOVIE)

  1. I’m trying to imagine Burton and Loren together…in my mind they are like night and day, but I’m glad to read in your enjoyable review that they had great chemistry! All the same, I’m going to have to give this one a watch to quench my curiosity.

    Liked by 1 person

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