“Emotional Thrift”

A scene from Brief Encounter (1945)

When I had my first child I was thrilled to be able to use a name that had been in my mind for so many years. Celia. Unique, lovely and inspired by one of my favourite movies: Brief Encounter. The film centres around the love story of Laura (played by Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard) who meet by chance and fall in love.

Without spoiling the story, it is enough to say that both are married and it’s an aching portrayal of repressed emotions and English society in the 1940s. It’s reminiscent of The Bridges of Madison County and Celia Johnson does a magnificent job of capturing Laura’s emotions of boredom, passion and heartache often just through the expression of her beautiful eyes. Very little is spoken in the film about the powerful emotions that Alec and Laura are dealing with.

The film is a time capsule of a generation when life carried on no matter how painful or awful feelings might be. We have all seen the poster “Keep Calm and Carry on” even if it may have a complicated history. You may even have family members who fought in the war and never discussed it. During that time so many experiences and feelings lay buried, perhaps too painful to revisit or share.

India Knight coined the term “emotional thrift” in her 2008 book Thrift, which applies the concept to everything from food to beauty. In the final chapter, Knight implores readers to practice emotional thrift to preserve not only the mood of others but also ourselves. “This isn’t (quite) a plea for all of our human transactions to have a tragically repressed Brief Encounter vibe about them,” she writes, “but it is a plea for a return to a stiffening of upper lips. Emoting all over the place is exhausting, makes you vulnerable, and is seldom the cure-all it’s touted as being.” (Thrift by India Knight, 265).

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