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Brief Encounter at 75: How would the iconic film look in the Covid age?

Brief Encounter, the ultimate doomed love story, was released on November 26, 1945. As the classic turns 75, we look at how the film would adapt to the age of coronavirus…

Brief Encounter is one of the greatest films of all time. Don’t just take our word for it: Time Out ranked the doomed love story the best romance film ever in a 2013 poll of experts, and in 1999 the British Film Institute put Brief Encounter as the second greatest British film in history.

The 1945 classic tells the story of an agonising love affair between two married strangers who meet accidentally at first, then purposefully as a forbidden love blooms. Their love is never quite resolved, however, and the powerful performances were heralded as both ground-breaking and relatable in a way rarely discussed in society at the time.

But could the same tension, the same raw, simmering emotion, be repeated 75 years later? In the time of Covid? Here’s how it might have looked.

Don’t let a stranger poke you in the eye

Laura spots “rather a nice face” across the Refreshment Room at Milford Junction. Alec (trust him, he’s a doctor) removes a speck of coal dust from her eye. It is currently inadvisable to let a stranger stick anything in your eye due to social distancing restrictions, and general common sense. In catering establishments, masks should be worn when not eating or drinking to reduce the chances of spreading Covid – or noticing someone you’d ditch your spouse for.

Avoid meetings with other households

One plus of lockdown is that you’re less likely to be caught by gossipy acquaintances ordering champagne at lunch with somebody who isn’t your spouse. Over another drink (typically tea or tap water) Alec shares his passion for hygiene and prevention of respiratory diseases. He was ahead of his time; 75 years ago or today, always remember to wash your hands.

Socially distanced dates

The pair meet weekly, Alec playing truant from hospital shifts. With the NHS stretched as it is, this would be severely frowned upon. They follow Laura’s Thursday habits: “I do the week’s shopping, change my library book, have lunch and generally go to the pictures. Not a very exciting routine but it makes a change.” Wouldn’t such a thrillingly varied and eventful day be quite the change! The options for conducting an illicit affair are incredibly limited. In the cinema for example, these two come from separate households so should be at least two seats apart.

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Only take essential journeys

Boarding separate trains, the couple decide very properly and sensibly to end their affair. Never have stiff-upper-lips trembled so. They agree to meet one last time… however is this an essential journey? Alec is a key worker, but bunking off; Laura has the right idea, keeping the carriage well ventilated.

We’ll always have Zoom

“Do you think we shall ever see each other again?” Laura asks during their soul-shattering farewell, as Alec plans an escape to Africa. When shall any of us ever see our loved ones (secret or not) again? As the film shows, better to have a brief encounter than no encounters at all.

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