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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 Neil Murray

The Perfect Storm
The Independent on Sunday; 16th Feb 2003; Ryan Gilbey

"I have always wanted to make a film about a girl who wants to get to an island," announced Emeric Pressburger to Michael Powell, his co-director/ co-scriptwriter, in 1944. "At the end of her journey she is so near that she can see the people clearly on the island, but a storm stops her from getting there, and by the time the storm has died down she no longer wants to go there, because her life has changed quite suddenly in the way that girls' lives do." Powell asked, "Why does she want to go to the island in the first place?" "Let's make the film and find out," suggested Pressburger. He later discovered that the script they wrote together for I Know Where I'm Going! was kept on the lot at Paramount as a textbook example of great screenwriting.

The film's title comes from an Irish song that we first hear when Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) is leaving Manchester for Kiloran, an island in the Hebrides, where she will tie the knot with a millionaire industrialist. But long before she loses her itinerary in the loch, we suspect she will find herself all at sea. The waves hack at the shore like axes, the bare trees rail against the sky. "The island was never still," recalled Hiller. "Everything that grew moved." Pressburger had observed a meadow being bullied by high winds, and declared: "That's what I want. That's the Hebrides." It's not just the weather that threatens Joan's plans. Enter Torquil MacNeil, dashing young Naval officer, to teach her which way is up. "People around here are very poor, I suppose," she sighs. "Not poor," he points out. "They just haven't got money."

The role was assigned to James Mason, who got himself fired by demanding star treatment - he didn't fancy roughing it on location "playing Boy Scouts" with the rest of the crew. Mason was replaced by Roger Livesey, who ended up shooting all his scenes in a studio anyway. As if Livesey in a kilt were not reason enough to love the picture, it also boasts a joyful opening credit sequence which runs through the first 25 years of Joan's life in two minutes; a neat line in hallucinatory imagery (Joan marrying a factory, a train threading through Tartan hills, and of course the vicious whirlpool Corryvreckan, which introduces into Joan's liberation a healthy dose of jeopardy); and Erwin Hillier's stirring photography, which is frequently just a hair short of gothic horror. For what it's worth, I think this is the most magical film Powell and Pressburger ever made. Black Narcissus is sexier, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp more boldly scaled. But this is - what's the word? Perfect.

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