by Sam Juliano
A steady drizzle and overcast sky suffused the late morning hours of Saturday, 17, August, 2013, in the town of Carnforth, part of the northwestern county of Lancashire, England. The gloomy weather is pretty much normal for that region and that time of year, but somehow it atmospherically accentuated the twenty or so mile trek we embarked on from our home base of Kendal in the county of Cumbria. Our destination was a seemingly sedate and rustic train depot on the outer fringes of a parish populated by barely five-thousand, and geographically distinguished by hilly terrain and its close proximity to the sea. The Carnforth Railway Station, which has a history dating back to the mid 1800’s was used as a waylay station for soldiers during both World Wars, and served as a junction on the London, Midland and Scottish railways. It was refurbished in 1938, and subsequently entered the movie history books after it was chosen as the primary setting for one of the most famous films ever made – David Lean’s timeless classic of repressed emotion – Brief Encounter, which was filmed during the last stage of World War II in early 1945. The location was chosen by film executives, because it was far enough away from major cities to avert blackouts which were common during the war years. Said Lean: “the war was still on and the railway people said, ‘there may be an air raid at any moment, and you’ll have time to put out the lights in that remote part up in the north. We’ll know when the planes are coming.’ We were a blaze of lights from filming.’ More recently renovations were completed to the Brief Encounter refreshment room (the tea room in the film) and the “Heritage Center” that are now places of pilgrimage for the film’s fans.
Upon entering the station proper, my tourist party -which included my wife Lucille, son Sammy, and site colleague Allan Fish and his maternal aunt and driver Ann Cafferkey – we were all taken with the imposing overhead platform clock, a powerful icon in the film. It did send shivers down my spine to contemplate that one of the greatest films of the British cinema, and surely one of the two or three most celebrated screen romances was filmed around that very spot. A further investigation of the station unveiled a Brief Encounter souvenir shop, the beautifully restored former tea room, where much of the film’s drama was staged, and lovingly adorned open-ended screening room that offers up a continual showing of the film from start to end and them over and over for the duration of the station’s hours of operation. Alas it was here, while sitting down with Sammy while the others engaged in another room that featured an elaborate miniature train -Brief Encounter epitomizes David Lean’s lifelong fascination with and affection for trains- and other film memorabilia, that I nodded out after a sleepless night into a dream world of David Lean’s poetic masterpiece, one that commenced over seven decades ago….. (drifts into sleep) (more…)