Laura feels stuck in an unfulfilling marriage. She derives no satisfaction from her family, which includes two young children. She meets Dr. Harvey at a train station, and the two strike up an immediate friendship. Though she feels twinges of guilt, Laura willingly builds the relationship. She falls deeply in love with Dr. Harvey. Despite a wife and children of his own, the doctor feels the same way about Laura. As the film's title suggests, their relationship is destined for brevity, though Laura and Alec are both very passionate in their feelings for one another.
Johnson does a remarkable job of conveying the searing loneliness and isolation Laura feels. Unfortunately, not much time is spend showing why she has grown so tired of her husband. Fred (Cyril Raymond) does seem a bit too preoccupied with his crossword puzzles to notice his wife's boredom. But more exploration of Laura's home life would have have helped make the character more sympathetic. The fact that Laura is literally suicidal over the prospect of not carrying on her relationship with Alec speaks volumes about her general unhappiness. But there is no evidence provided that her roles as wife and mother should lead her to such deep despair. Even so, Brief Encounter, in its unsentimental way, remains an engrossing character study.
As for supplementary features, In Which We Serve includes a 24 minute making-of documentary, "A Profile of In Which We Serve," that packs in quite a bit of information. Also included is a 16 minute interview with Noël Coward expert Barry Day, who discusses In Which We Serve. An hour's worth of audio from a 1969 discussion between Richard Attenborough and Noël Coward at London's National Film Theatre rounds out the first film's features.
Barry Day continues his illuminating discussion of Coward's work with a fifteen minute interview included with This Happy Breed. There is also an interview with the film's cinematographer and co-screenwriter Ronald Neame. Neame, who worked in various capacities on each film in this set, was 99 years old in this 2010 interview, the final year of his life. He speaks with great lucidity about his collaborations with Coward and Lean.