The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Nicky Smith

Gay times in the heather
From: Brief Encounters :Lesbians and Gays in British Cinema
by Stephen Bourne

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's I Know Where I'm Going!, a wonderful romantic drama, set in the Hebrides, should be more widely recognised as one of the classic films of our time. Lacking sentimentality, it is an intelligent film, and not in the least bit whimsical. it tells the story of Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller), the sophisticated daughter of a bank manager, who travels to Scotland to marry 'one of the richest men in the country', the chairman of Consolidated Chemical Industries. While stranded on the mainland in a storm, she falls in love with Torquil McNeil (Roger Livesey), a naval officer on leave, whom she later discovers to be the Laird of Killoran. During the storm she stays with Torquil's friends, Colonel Barnstaple (Captain C.W.R. Knight) and Catriona (Pamela Brown).

This film, about a woman who thinks she knows where she is going but doesn't, could be telling us something about lesbians. Sometimes they are women who think they know where they are going (a husband, home, 2 point 4 children and heterosexual domesticity), but discover that life has something else to offer. In this film Joan Webster is not allowed to go where she wants to. She doesn't even meet the man she has been planning to marry. Instead she encounters Torquil and Catriona.

Long-haired, wild Catriona is a lover of big dogs, and who assertively calls herself an 'old bag'. Torquil describes her as a 'queer girl'. After Joan has almost killed herself trying to get to the island in the middle of the storm, Catriona orders her to her bedroom: "There's a fire in my room and that's where you'll sleep." The following 'bedroom scene' between the two women is ambiguous. Does Catriona actually leave the bedroom? We don't see her leave and, when morning comes, her dogs are still sitting at the foot of the bed. In the next scene we see Joan, who, has always looked so perfect, looking relaxed and carefree, sitting on a table and swing her legs. Looking rather butch, she says wistfully "I can't do anything with my hair." Has Catriona liberated her? Has she opened new doors for Joan? Says Joan to Catriona at the end of the film, before she is united with Torquil: "Goodbye Catriona. Thank you for everything". We can only speculate about what she means.

The subtext to this extraordinary film is a fear of sexuality. For example, on the train to Scotland, we see Joan's wedding dress wrapped in cellophane, and later superstition prevents Torquil from entering the Castle of Moy. Finally, there is Catriona, who reveals that, during the war, she was surrounded by RAF pilots stationed at Kiloran, but she had her big dogs to protect her.

Off-screen Pamela brown was as sexually ambivalent as Catriona. In Million-Dollar Movie, the second volume of his autobiography, Michael Powell recalled a conversation he had with his wife, Frankie, in 1950 when he was considering brown for the role the boy-girl, girl-boy Nicklaus in Tales of Hoffmann. Frankie had said to Powell: "I always thought there was a touch of the lesbian in Pamela." Says Powell:

"In this she was right. All actors are continually experimenting and inventing their hormones, their male and female genes, and a few have the luck to be evenly balanced between their sexual drives. Pamela was one of these. She was a witch. Women adored her, men feared her, and for the same reason - she fascinated them ... Pamela was "the ugliest woman in the world" (Emeric Pressburger) or "the most beautiful" (John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier) ... the great Continental actresses were her models: Rachel, Bernhardt, Duse. She was blessed with a big voice, and a magnificent chest and lungs upon which she could strike organ notes. her eyes were like two flames, lighting up eery corner of the theatre, and above all she had intelligence, which burned upon her brow and illuminated every move she made and every word she said? (MDM pp95, 533-4)

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