Brief Encounter; The Third Man; Odette; Outcast of the Islands; The Heart of the Matter.
‘A classic example of British understatement’: Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter. Photograph: Rex Features
A public school boy from the professional middle-class, the ruggedly handsome Trevor Howard (1913-88) was the first new British star to emerge after the second world war, usually playing middle-class professionals – doctors, lawyers, military men, colonial officials. He was, however, Oscar-nominated as Paul Morel's hard-drinking, working-class father in Sons and Lovers (1960).
His movie career lasted more than 40 years, but his most memorable star parts came early on. Five of these are in this excellent box set, starting with his decent doctor caught up in a chaste but passionate affair with housewife Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter (1945), a classic example of British understatement, and the first of his three films with David Lean. This is followed by his cynical intelligence officer pursuing black marketeer Harry Lime through the sewers of postwar Vienna in the Carol Reed-Graham Greene masterpiece The Third Man (1949).
In the third film, Odette (1950), one of the most popular British movies of its day, he and Anna Neagle co-star as real-life second world war agents in occupied France. The fourth film, Outcast of the Islands (1951), one of five collaborations with Carol Reed, was an ambitious adaptation of Conrad's great philosophical adventure novel in which he gives a powerful performance as a weak, self-destructive drifter who betrays his benefactor.
The box's final film, The Heart of the Matter (1953), based on the 1948 novel that secured the reputation of his friend Graham Greene, features what many consider Howard's finest performance as the guilt-riddled Catholic policeman in wartime West Africa. Peter Finch, Elizabeth Allan and Denholm Elliott join him in transforming Sierra Leone into a province of Greeneland.