Iconic Carnforth film is 75 years old

It is 75 years since the premiere of the film Brief Encounter which was filmed at Carnforth and is regarded as a romantic classic of British cinema.

By Michelle Blade
Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 3:45 pm

The film, directed by David Lean and based on a story by Noel Coward, was once hailed by critics as one of the 10 best films ever made, and it’s still capable of delighting romantics 75 years after it first made a stir in 1945 with its tale of trains, buffets and a forbidden, ultimately doomed love affair.

Starring Trevor Howard as Dr Alec Harvey, and Celia Johnson, as Laura Jesson, the film tells the story of how these two people, each married to someone else, meet on a lonely English railway station while waiting for their trains. A romance briefly flutters.

But, even as they are beginning to make plans, each of them knows it is doomed. In their society, strangers from a train did not have affairs, and instead they return to their old lives - he to work in Africa, she to her husband and family.

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter shot at Carnforth Railway Station.

Even so, the idea that married people could even consider an affair caused something of a scandal - at least among the so-called ‘chattering classes’.

Much of the film was shot at Carnforth railway station, then a junction on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.

As well as a busy station being necessary for the plot, it was located far enough away from major cities to avoid the blackout for film purposes, shooting taking place in early 1945 before the Second World War had finished.

At two points in the film, the station location is indicated by platform signs referring to local destinations including Lancaster, Morecambe, Leeds and Bradford.

Scene from Carnforth Railway Station in the film Brief Encounter.

Coward makes the station announcements in the film. The station refreshment room was a studio recreation. Director David Lean chose Carnforth because of the ramps leading to and from the platforms, the steam and smoke of passing trains and the prominent station clock.

Local people were enlisted as extras and invited along to the first night of a week’s screenings at Morecambe’sTower Cinema, also attended by Trevor Howard in March 1946.

The setting of the film’s most famous scenes - the railway station - was marked by a special plaque in 1990.

Some time later the plaque was stolen from the station wall.

Clock on Carnforth Station in Brief Encounter with Celia Johnson (Laura) beneath it emerging from subway.

The cherished plaque marking the spot Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson first met in the classic film Brief Encounter was returned in October 1995.

An anonymous caller left the oval-shaped plaque with Heysham Police after it was stolen from Carnforth Railway Station in April 1995.

Police handed it over to Lancaster Museum where it was expected to become a prime exhibit.

Margaret Barton, who played Beryl the cheeky station cafe waitress in Brief Encounter, returned to Carnforth Train Station on Cinema 100 Day in 1996 to unveil a plaque commemorating the film and its director, David Lean.

The Brief Encounter plaque at Carnforth railway station.

Today, Brief Encounter is an important element of Carnforth Station’s Heritage Centre.

The film is run continuously in a mini-cinema, the popular refreshment room is modelled on that in the film and a special display is devoted to the work of David Lean.

Carnforth Station still remains a place of pilgrimage for fans of the film.

*Brief Encounter is available on Amazon Prime and on DVD.