Sunday 29 July 2007

I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were always names I knew without ever knowing their work, highly regarded writers, producers and directors of some of the greatest films to come out of my home country. I knew the names of the greatest of them and now I've even seen them too: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, classics all of them. I've even seen some of Michael Powell's solo work, both before Pressburger in The Edge of the World, and afterwards, with Peeping Tom. This one, though, I'd never even heard of, though it comes solidly in the middle of all those others.

It's pretty clear early on that it's way ahead of its time, in its portrayal of a heroine straight out of the eighties, someone who knows precisely what she wants and has no hesitation in going straight after it. In the able form of 33 year old Wendy Hiller, the 25 year old Joan Webster has landed the owner of the company she works for, Consolidated Chemical Industries. He's hugely rich, naturally, and rents his own island in the Hebrides. He's even been knighted, making him a prize catch, however old he might be. Naturally all doesn't go quite as expected, once her schedule is thrown off by a fog at Port Erraig, and Joan finds that for the first time in her life she doesn't know where she's going.

This film makes a huge amount of sense after having seen The Edge of the World, as this is probably the best and most natural glimpse into Scots island life since that film which focused on it. It looks great and feels very natural indeed. Hiller is excellent, though she's probably outshone by Roger Livesey as the Laird of Killoren who she naturally falls for, and perhaps even Pamela Brown, who gives a small but awesomely believeable and capable performance as Joan's forced host on Port Erraig. Michael Powell, who she ended up living with after Peeping Tom, described her as a witch, in a very favourable way, and I can see why from this performance.

All of them are outshone by Scotland though, as it infuses the whole picture. If Powell & Pressburger had chosen to film on a set it would have felt artificial, but they wisely chose to go right out to the places they were depicting and see the rain, wind and fog that we should see. It all throws in flavour, as do the locations: Jura, Mull and Scarba, all islands in the Hebrides. After we get to hear about the Gulf of Corryvreckan, we get to see the real Gulf of Corryvreckan, which is as violent a channel as the legends we hear about in the film.

This one may be a lot lesser known than much of the rest of Powell and Pressburger's output, but it's still a major film in its own right. It has an atmosphere and a flavour to it that are palpable and the story that unfolds is a strong one, subtle if not particularly unexpected, and with plenty of character.

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