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On Location With A Canterbury Tale
Studio Report from "Filmgoer" November 13, 1943

Here's a story from our reporter who went down to Canterbury to see Michael Powell at work on location.

A sound-recording car moved slowly down the main street.

A voice blared from a loudspeaker: "Scenes from A Canterbury Tale will be filmed in the streets of Canterbury on Thursday afternoon.

Shoppers in the High Street stopped and looked round.

It was maybe two months since a film unit led by director Michael Powell had descended on the Cathedral City.

Having taken over an entire hotel, they had proceeded to film in many colourful places within a ten mile radius of Canterbury.

Every morning at 8.30 prompt a motor coach crammed with artistes and technicians pulled out for some picturesque location.

Now Canterbury, the story's focal point, was to receive its all important share of the limelight.

A Canterbury Tale is something of a dream come true for Mickey Powell.

The director of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was born near Canterbury; grew up with a deep love of Kent and its great centre, and determined to make it the setting some day of a dramatic modern picture steeped in the atmosphere of traditional England.

Then, a few months ago, he and Emeric Pressburger, co-writer and producer with Powell of Blimp, 49th Parallel and One of Our Aircraft is Missing, set about devising the story which should do the trick.

The result is being filmed in Canterbury and after that at Denham Studios.

It concerns the adventures of four modern, unintentional pilgrims - a land girl, a Justice of the Peace, and a British and an American Army sergeant - who meet in unusual circumstances.

The girl was a shopgirl before she went on the land.

Today there are thousands like her who, but for the wat, might never have discovered the romance that lies behind the English scene.

This one girl, working hard, has time to feel the power of ages in the new world she discovers. The adventure she meets as a result more than repays for the toil the war has brought her.

The British sergeant had been a thorough Londoner, and had no time for the country.

He is like countless young men billeted or stationed in country places, waiting to go overseas.

Are they going to live in a little fog, remembering only the streets they left behind?

Or will they be alive to the reality of this last and most complete vision of England they will see for a long time? This young man finds one answer.

The American perpetually lived mentally in a small town back in the States.

To his surprise he finds a country family so like his own that he and they speak a "language" which has nothing to do with national boundaries.

Eric Portman stars as Thomas Colpeper J.P. Around this Man of Kent the story revolves. For he is presented as the voice of this English idea.

As was stated in PICTUREGOER recently the three players completing the quartet are interesting newcomers to the screen: Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and Sergeant John Sweet, U.S. Army.

The location shooting, often done in a well populated neighbourhood, has caused several stirs.

On one occasion when filming went on at a village station near Canterbury, the four principals boarded a train running on a normal service.

Passengers looked out with intense interest. The local inhabitants were also mighty intrigued. But two military men marched talking heartily all the way down the platform and phlegmatically took no notice whatever.

In Canterbury itself at a time when action near the historic West Gate was filmed from the roof of a building, there was much climbing up and down ladders and lowering and raising of encased apparatus.

The effect on the casual onlooker is invariably one of wonderment that so much time can be spent on apparently doing so little work. "People stand around all the while," is the comment.

But film location work is constant and complicated. the only thing which holds it up is the disappearance of the sun, and then, willy-nilly, patience must be borrowed from Job.

Some of the most important outdoor action of this outdoor England film was shot in the actual four days concerned in the story.

Chillingbourne, where much of the action occurs, is a composite place made up of parts of many historic villages.

One of the chief of these is Fordwich, where the unit filmed in a tiny, ancient Saxon and Norman church, dating back more than 1,200 years.

Here also they filmed by the river Stour from a spot which had once been the central point for arrival and departure when this sleepy village was a thriving port.

The stones taken to build the Cathedral were landed there. There, too, the press gang carried on their grim trade.

A Canterbury Tale is being made to encompass something which the familiar pattern of war melodrama ignores.

Set in the only time which can matter at present, wartime, the film attempts to show some of the worth while things which such a time of change can bring.


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