I do not excel at being a Girl. I can't paint my nails tidily, or be arsed to redo them when I inevitably mess them up ("What? I'm going OUT. It'll be dark..."); I have had the same hairstyle since I was seven and grew out my fringe. I own less than a half-dozen pairs of shoes, all of which are black and appropriate to different levels of formality or weather. I never got on with Sex and the City. I don't like shopping.
Despite this, at least once every three weeks I undergo a strange mutation, in which I metamorphose from the usual tubby, hairy-legged caterpillar into a delicately feminine butterfly. I do something quintessentially girly. I make myself a brew, grab the biscuit barrel, and sit down in front of my favourite film of all time, Brief Encounter.
No, keep reading. Honestly.
Brief Encounter was written by Noel Coward, and has a soundtrack by Rachmaninov. That alone should be enough to make anyone's heart thrill. The cast includes the iconic Joyce Carey, the frailly beautiful Celia Johnson and the charming Trevor Howard, and features steam trains, starkly alluring Utility suits and explicit footage of Bath buns. And as if this wasn't enough, there is Plot.
Fraught, tense and understatedly tragic, Brief Encounter is as compelling today as it was in 1945. Time and again I've watched Laura and Alec meet, fight and resist mutual attraction, finally giving in only to be forced to forsake the brief happiness they've found amid the drabness of wartime. Broken, they return to their marriages in a desperate attempt to forget the happiness that was so easily found elsewhere. Brief Encounter is unique; it is the only film which consistently makes me cry.
Now I don't cry at films, ever. (Except ET, and that's between us, right?) In fact I find the normal weepy chick flicks putridly self-indulgent. It's the restraint that Laura and Alec show that affects me so deeply. It's always the same scene that does it, too; when Alec first confesses that he has fallen in love with Laura, and she admits, honestly and straightforwardly, that she feels the same. And is brave enough to flout the swell of violins, the Hollywood gospel that love is all that matters. "It isn't. Other things matter too, like honesty and decency and self-respect..." Laura flounders on, through the morass of feelings too big and too wild to be corralled by words, "We must forget that we've said what we've said. There's still time - if we control ourselves, and behave like ordinary, decent human beings - there's still time -" And at this, she begins to cry, recognising the hopeless situation in which she has found herself, and been completely overwhelmed by, like someone trying to mop up the sea with a dishcloth.
And there, I howl like a woman hunted down by the hormone hounds. Every time. The Jaffa cake melting, forgotten, in my hand, tears splashing into my brew, I cry. In those ninety minutes, I am a Proper Girl. Then Laura returns to her boring husband, the Rachmaninov swells to an end, the credits roll, and I go back to scratching myself and drinking lager from the can.