The myth of the stiff upper lip
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In a series exploring how art and culture influence ideas about Britain, Alastair Sooke examines the belief in the British reserve.

It’s a commonly held belief – a cliché even: the British are a nation of repressed, emotionally stunted stoics.

And the ‘stiff upper lip’ – remaining resolute and calm in the face of adversity – was arguably put to its greatest test during World War Two.

It’s no more apparent than in Noel Coward and David Lean’s wartime masterpiece of emotional restraint, Brief Encounter (1945), about a lonely housewife who falls in love with a stranger.

Alastair Sooke travels to Carnforth station – where Brief Encounter was filmed – to speak with Thomas Dixon, the author of Weeping Britannia.

Dixon explains why the film is “a central document of British emotions,” driving audiences to tears just as the film’s characters repress them. But does it dispel the idea of the stiff upper lip? Watch the video to find out.

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