We were welcomed back to the Fabulous Fritzy last Monday for a classic MNFC with a 1940s film. The eagle-eyed among us (not me) might have noticed the early February date, spotted some tiny hearts on the home-made cake and napkins, heard the cheesy romantic spotify playlist in the background, and deduced the theme: yes, Comrade/Doctor Love was living up to his name, and inviting us all to share in some sweet loving… Or rather, showing us Brief Encounter, recently voted by Brits the most romantic film of all time. (The fact that there is relatively little actual loving perhaps says something about British ineptitude in this field. Discuss.)
Before the film even started, for some reason talk turned to both the Sheffield musician Richard Hawley (seen in the pub by various film clubbers) and, er, R Kelly’s Black Panties. This may or may not have something to do with the welcome return of Founding Comrade Felix after a long MNFC absence.
Thankfully, once the lights dimmed, the new Fritzy screen ‘borrowed’ from Melbourne Grove Medical Practice was in action, and I remembered to go and get my glasses, we were all in a much more refined and rarified era. 1940s England, in the fictional town of Milford Junction, as represented partly by my home town (Go Beaconsfield! Not often I get to say that) but mainly by Carnforth which now benefits from a lot of Brief Encounter related tourism as a result.
It is, of course, black and white. Or rather ‘bleck and white’, since the tone was not only raised but clipped by David Lean’s cast, taking us back to a world where people like to ‘relex’ by doing the Times crossword and putting on the wireless, and spend a lot of time rushing for their ‘pletform’.
Except, of course, if one is a member of the lower classes, in which case one’s function seems to be to provide comedic light relief through saying things like ‘op it you saucy upstart! and ‘what a little floozy’ while slapping one another on the arse, in between serving tea and Banbury cakes.
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but the film had a clever flashback device, starting with a scene in the Refreshment Room of the MJ station, which we later revisit with added knowledge and much greater poignancy. We meet Alec Harvey, who appeared at first sight to be a fusion of comrades Jon and Felix, being both a Doctor and shortly off to Efrica. He later expanded on his job as ‘not a very interesting one, just an ordinary GP’. Ouch. Not like our Dr Love, after all. And off to Jo’burg, not Lilongwe.
It also had a rather odd narrative device where our heroine, Laura, is silently imagining recounting her illicit romantic misdemeanours to her very nice but rather dull moustached husband Fred. While very supportive, he’s neither a barrel of laughs nor a phwoar- inducing sexpot. He also says things like ‘Hurry up with all this beautifying, I want m’dinner’. Boy, am I glad I’m not a 1940s housewife.
Laura, in a strikingly wide-eyed and Oscar-nominated performance, relives the whole story starting from her chance station-based grit-in-eye encounter with the far more dashing and moustache-less Dr Alec. Dull Husband doesn’t stand a chance. Nor does Mrs Alec, whom we never meet but learn (rather bluntly from him) is ‘Small. Dark. Rather delicate’. Ouch number two. He really has a bad way with words, the good doctor; except when he is gushingly declaring his love for Laura, astonishingly soon after meeting her. Playing it cool doesn’t seem to be a thing, in the 1940s. Still, better than boring a mere woman ‘with all these long medical words’ while her eyes widen like saucers. (Talking about pneumoconiosis has never been more laden with latent desire).
The chin-stroking raised all sorts of themes including how far Alec actually initiated the affair; the counterpoint provided by the tea-lady who had left her husband; the general sauciness of the working class characters versus the buttoned up middle classes; how much more unacceptable it would have been societally in the 1940s versus eg if our Comrade Adam suddenly ran off with ‘Janine’ (still pretty bad; no idea who Janine is) and to what extent it was all symbolic of the freedoms which opened up during World War Two and closed down afterwards, leaving people perhaps missing the strong emotions, passions and unexpectedness (represented here by doing such crazy things as gaily hiring a boat, falling out, and standing on a humpbacked bridge. Oh yes, and nearly shagging a married man in his friend’s serviced apartment). All of which is beautifully parodied by Victoria Wood here.
Joking aside, it was a beautiful and memorable film. Top pick Jon!
See you at the FAFTAs, film fascist!
LOVE IS THE SPICE OF FASCISM (OR VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LOVE…)