Trevor Howard did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Alec Harvey in Brief Encounter.
Trevor Howard would later play another potential man for a wife's infidelity in Lean's later less effective foray into similar subject matter in The Passionate Friends. Howard had a few things against him one being his character was a bit underwritten, as well as he had to create chemistry with the as usual fairly dull Ann Todd. It was not helped either that the film seemed surprisingly interested in the jilted lover and perhaps it helped him even less that he was portrayed by Claude Rains who ran away with that film without a question. This film though there is no Claude Rains to be seen, and instead of Ann Todd we get Celia Johnson. Johnson's performance is an incredible piece of work, and I have to say it is ridiculous she lost to Olivia De Havilland's forgettable work in To Each His Own.
Howard does not utilize his somewhat rough style I know him best for as he plays a gentle married doctor who befriends the housewife. Howard is very sweet and appropriately charming in his performance. Doctor Harvey is an idealist and Howard portrays this in his always enthusiastic and naturally suggests the compassionate side of the doctor particularly well. Dr. Harvey in himself is not an extremely complicated character by himself but Howard plays the part well by making the doctor rather pleasant company to be with so it is is not at all surprising that Laura would find him to be pleasant company as well. It is relatively simple work by Howard but he plays it just right.
A little more though comes from the chemistry Howard and Johnson create in the film. It is fairly interesting in the way they both play the mutually growing attraction and love each have for the other. Howard and Johnson just feel right together as there is such a great ease in the way they interact with one another. Both of them build the romance not on an overwhelming lust for one another, but such a strong affection for one another. When they are together neither of them play it as if they are trying to purposefully even have an affair so to speak, but rather each of them plays it as a powerful affection for the other's presence. They portray a constant empowering joy when together, and honestly create that drive that keeps bringing them together.
Trevor Howard gives a consistently good performance as Dr. Alec Harvey in the film, but it simply is Celia Johnson's film. She not only gets the stronger perspective, but she as well does make a more notable impact with her performance. It is her show from beginning to end, and there is not a moment where Howard comes close to stealing the spotlight from her. That is hardly a problem though in that Howard still fulfills his part quite well. What he must do more than anything is to properly facilitate her performance by creating a believable object of her affections, and to be a man that such a woman would consider forgetting family for. He fulfills this need well, and although he is not the best part of the film he is an essential part of what makes the film great.