They say love is always better in the movies. In real life, kissing in the rain is matched with turmoil that mascara will run, revealing to your paramour they’re actually kissing Alice Cooper. In real life, meeting at the top of the Empire State Building would mean a swift exit at the sight of my panting and dishevelled form. But cast these romantic tropes in black and white, add a rousing soundtrack and what we’re left with is the formula by which all men and women will fail to live up to. Thanks, Hollywood.
As part of the Southbank Centre’s all-encompassing Festival of Love this summer, their ‘Love at the Movies’ series has seen the Royal Festival Hall transformed into a 2,000-seater cinema, allowing audiences to experience classic films as they were intended, accompanied by a live orchestra. And sometimes in costume – see Dirty Dancing and Grease. For me, lover of less of the perk, more of the pessimism, there was only one choice on my dance card – David Lean’s Brief Encounter.
Opening the evening, Celia Johnson’s daughter Lucy Fleming gave a warming introduction, sharing stories of her mother’s experiences filming Brief Encounter in the wilds of Lancashire and what it would mean for her to see a film she was so nervous about making become such a cinematic classic, and honoured with its own orchestral accompaniment. Judging by the audience, a wonderful mix of ages from elderly couples to vintage enthusiasts like myself, as the opening credits began to roll, there seemed a collective sigh, as we realised something beautiful was about to happen.
Much of this undoubtedly beauty came from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Southbank Centre’s resident orchestra. Renowned for their movie soundtracks, including The Lord of the Rings, tonight it was Sergei Rachmaninov’s ‘Piano Concerto No 2 in C Minor Op.18’, conducted by David Charles Abell and led by the impassioned Leon McCawley on piano who would remind us of the power of the classical movie soundtrack.
Escaping the mundane ways of suburban life in the arms of a handsome stranger she meets on a train platform, Laura retreats into her memories of the weeks before as her doting husband sits opposite, happily enjoying The Times crossword. But inside her head, Rachmaninov secretly soars. The infamous score resonates throughout the film, with its heart-wrenching strings and heavy piano chords, ‘Piano Concerto No 2’, seamless rides alongside the story of a woman reluctantly caught entirely off guard by the winds of passion and the man who was responsible.
Seeing Brief Encounter on the big screen, surrounded by those who adore the film as much as myself was an emotional experience; goosebumps ran down my arms with their lingering looks through the laughter at terrible orchestral accompaniments to lunch, as Laura leapt off the moving train, as their final goodbye is reduced to a swift shoulder touch.
Because love sometimes is silliness. And sometimes it is a bit of grit in one’s eye that you just can’t get out.
Still not quite loved up enough? The Southbank Centre finish their Festival of Love with a bang in their ‘Big Wedding Weekend’ as they welcome couples of all kinds to get married or renew their vows on the Royal Festival Hall stage. Didn’t get an invite? Don’t worry, you can crash the reception. All 20 of them. Drop in to The Clore Ballroom where The London Gay Big Band and DJ Anna Greenwood from Guilty Pleasures will put all wedding DJs to shame. There will also be Wedding Olympics, teaching us all essential sporting skills such as catching the wedding bouquet, the best best man speeches, a mass wedding photo and a bouncy castle – an inflatable church, of course.
Big Wedding Weekend takes place at Southbank Centre on Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 August. View the full order of service online.