Brief Encounter still

Residents at Scout Cragg, our fine Lancashire park, are sited close to some wonderful places worth visiting – including Carnforth, a mere seven miles north of Lancaster. This charming market town is of particular note for film buffs, as we’ll explain in this edition of our blog.


Briefly, Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter was based on the stage play Still Life written by Noel Coward, who adapted his own work for the screenplay. Without giving away too much plot for those who have not yet seen it (and, oh, you must) Brief Encounter is a bittersweet look at a passionate but unconsummated extramarital affair in England shortly before World War II. It’s a masterclass in the British stiff upper lip of repressed emotion.

David Lean directed the film and though he would later go on to make such large-scale full colour cinematic classics as Bridge On The River Kwai, Lawrence Of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, it his noirish atmospherics and empathic intimate touch that is on display throughout Brief Encounter.

The film (starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard) was released to great acclaim in late 1945 and was nominated in three categories at the following year’s Academy Awards (aka. the Oscars). It has consistently ranked highly in any ‘best of British film’ list over the 80 years since, and as recently as 2017 it still polled only just outside the Top Ten. It is, of course, an absolute classic.


The Carnforth connection

When you’re looking for things to do in Carnforth, you can’t escape the magical spell cast by Brief Encounter having been filmed here.

Carnforth is home to a Victorian railway station which was used as a significant location during the 1945 production by the Eagle-Lion film studio. Many locals were cast as extras. The station features heavily and recognisably in the film – so, as you spend time there, it is clear exactly ‘where you are’ in relation to what is seen on the silver screen. As such, it can feel like a giant film set, which brings its own thrill.

Carnforth was actually a working station at the time, and was chosen for Brief Encounter because it was so far away from the South East coast, the production crew would receive sufficient warning of an approaching air-raid attack (filming took place between January and May 1945, the last few months of the Second World War) that they would have time to turned off lights and comply with any blackout.


Carnforth Station

Carnforth ceased to be a mainline station in 1970 and became a secondary line station, slowly sliding into a state of disrepair. In the early 2000s a massive restoration, renovation and refurbishment programme was driven in part by the enthusiasm of fans of the film who, ultimately, recognised its important position as a tangible and important location in the history of British filmmaking.

The work included bringing buildings back into order, repairing the station clock and constructing a refreshment room to match the studio set which had been used in production of the original film. The café in the film was a set at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire, though is so iconic its position at Carnforth makes absolute sense. Spending a little time in here is quite an evocative experience, if you know the film.

A Brief Encounter Heritage Centre is now located within Carnforth’s station – which is still a working railway station. The Centre includes a photography archive and exhibitions of memorabilia such as posters and suitcases from the steam railway era, alongside items specifically to do with the film itself. There is even a mini-cinema complete with red velvet seats which shows Brief Encounter on a loop. Admission is free at the Carnforth Heritage Centre, which is open on weekdays from 12pm – 4pm but it is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. The whole place is utterly charming.

When you fancy a few hours away from Scout Cragg, Carnforth will provide you with the chance for a brief encounter with some of the best of British movie history. It’s a wonderful location, a momentary chance to step back in time, which has thankfully been brought back to its former glory. Enjoy!