Before we say farewell to 2008, there’s one more 100th anniversary worth mentioning. December 18th marked a century since the birth of the great British actress Celia Johnson (1908-1982), best remembered as the star of the David Lean classic Brief Encounter (1945). One of the great love stories of the screen, Brief Encounter is blessed with a beautiful script from Noel Coward, Lean’s delicate direction, and the two marvelous central performances from Johnson and co-star Trevor Howard. The whole thing should play as a spoof at this late date, but it has such depth of feeling that it’s still a moving and irresistible romantic movie. Johnson is superb in her portrayal of an ordinary married woman who falls in love with a married doctor (Howard). Their chaste affair consists of exactly four kisses and an unconsummated tryst. Johnson’s acting is honest and piercingly affecting throughout. She uncovers the pain, guilt, and desire beneath her perfect facade. Yes, it’s very well-mannered as tales of adultery go, but it’s touching in its portrait of two lives upturned by an unexpected, inopportune attraction. Howard is remarkably appealing in his gentleness and easy charm, but it remains Johnson’s film. It takes an extraordinary talent to illuminate an average person so completely.