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It was very strange watching a film that was shot on an Island that I
can see out of my living room window (on clear days).
The film touched on many issues that affected people of the Shetlands around that time, but you should glad hearted, because in REAL life the people of Foula (the REAL Island) still managed to survive, there are approx 30 people living on Foula (Pronouced "Fulla") at this time, and they now have (as from the end of 2004), for the first time 24 hour electricity! (previously only 15 hours a days worth).
Of course, none of the main characters are from Shetland, because they sound Scottish. (The Shetland accent is a mix of Scots and Norwegian Dialect), but the film does its best.. and people who lived in Shetland NEVER spoke Scottish Gaelic.. ever.. tho they did speak Danish before the 17th Century...
This film is available in the Shetland Libraries, and it is watched with much mirth by us... watch and enjoy!
Michael Powell, the distinguished English director, was a man of
vision. He takes us on a voyage to a remote place in order to set his
drama about what the inhabitants of the mythical Hirta, in the
Hebrides, were going through. The film was actually filmed in Fulla, in
the Shetland Islands, which resembles its model. The original island of
St. Kilda had been deemed the last place on earth as the Romans sailed
the area and since the island resembles a wall rising from the sea, it
must have appeared that way to those explorers. Mr. Powell was lucky in
working with the producer Joe Rock, whose generosity made this early
film worth discovering.
The film opens with a shot of the island from the sea. We see the island rise from the water, as the Romans might have seen it. Little has changed in the place, except now it's deserted. The people of the island have long gone over the mainland because it was hard for them to make a living in that barren and inhospitable place. The island is now a bird sanctuary. The yacht is commandeered by Andrew Gray, who has left the place and now his memories of that turbulent past come back to him.
We go back in a flashback to know what happened in the island some time ago. We see the Manson family as they prepare for church. Peter, the patriarch, has two children, Ruth and Robbie. Andrew Gray is in love with the beautiful Ruth. Later in a competition to get to the top of the highest spot in the island Robbie suffers a tragic accident. Andrew decides to leave for the main land with his father's blessings, but Ruth is left with child, not knowing how to contact Andrew. When the whole population decides to leave, Peter Manson, reluctantly agrees, but tragedy intervenes when a terrible accident occurs.
The acting is magnificent. John Laurie is seen as Peter Manson, the man whose love for the land is his passion. Belle Chrystall plays Ruth the gorgeous island girl in love with Andrew. Eric Berry and Niall MacGinnis are Robbie and Andrew and Finlay Currie makes James Gray come alive.
"The Edge of the World" shows a Michael Powell in great form. Mr. Powell must have taken a tremendous chance by even filming in that remote place, but he is rewarded by a timeless film that will live forever.
An interesting film and well worth seeing for those interested in
Scottish theme films. The comparison with Man of Aran is valid, in that
it depicts an isolated island community struggling to eke out an
What was missing for me was even a hint at the language these island people of "Hirta" would have spoken, Scottish Gaelic. The church scene with its psalm singing was executed better than in "The Little Minister", but still without making an effort to portray the real thing. The singing was in English, using a Lowland style and the precentor did not chant the line, but read it! They had clearly not visited any Highland churches before preparing the scene.
The documentary film, appended to this, "Return to the Edge of the World" was wonderful and I found it equally enjoyable.
Michael Powell directed the magnificent "Black Narcissus" so I had to check out this, his first solo film. I love the fact that he filmed this entirely on location on a practically barren island in the North Sea. The local people played all of the supporting parts and the scenery was genuine, rough-hewn houses of stone and peat. It's a short film -- the story of how a remote island community came to leave the land after it became too hard to work it -- which adds to the documentary-like feel of the film. One young man wants to leave the island and work in Scotland; his twin sister and her beau plan to stay on the island and marry. Their respective fathers are rather reluctant to face the future. The telling of the tale is as rough as the editing but it's worth renting if you want to get an idea of what life was like for the working class back then.
This early effort by director Michael Powell is simply a stunning visual treat. Shot on location on one of the British isles,the visuals are both dramatic and beautiful.What amazed me was how different this movie was from others I've seen from the same period.It seemed so modern in the way of storytelling. The basic story of the film is quite predictable but the actors commitment heightens the drama's impact. John Laurie is the standout in the cast.But what lingers is the powerful depiction of the harsh life on these isles,constantly battling nature's forces.This movie is a cherished record of a way of life that now has almost completely disappeared. To fans of Michael Powell this is a must-see, and I recommend this amazing film to everybody.
Odd little film directed by Michael Powell long before his huge success
once teamed with Emeric Pressburger.
Subtitled "the death of an island," the film chronicles the dreary lives of island folk as seen in flashback by the former residents years after. Victims of the changing world, commercialized fishing, and isolation, the islanders finally pack it in and move to the mainland after the death of one young man and a near miss with a baby.
Set in an era before electricity and telephones the film shows just how isolated the people are on the various islands north of Scotland. Independent and stubborn, they cling to their rock even though they know the end is coming.
The story is slim: the young people are in crisis of whether to stay and keep the island going or go to the mainland and get good-paying jobs. The story shows us their lives on the island of Hirta (which means death) and the draw of the cities.
Almost shot in documentary form, Powell constantly shows us the majestic beauty of the sparse rock of island versus the drab lives of the people. Their lives are built around church, social interaction, and trying to keep going.
The acting is minimal with a few familiar faces. John Laurie is the hard father who sees his son (Eric Berry) die in a stupid accident while climbing the face of sea rock. Belle Chrystall is Ruth and Niall MacGinnes is Robbie. Finlay Currie co-stars.
The island scenery is just gorgeous and Powell has a good eye for the incredible backdrops of sea and rock and waving grasses.
If I had to name one of my favourite film directors, a few always come to mind, and they always include Michael Powell. He has made some of the (for me) most fascinating, thrilling, strange, intriguing and often exhilarating movies ever. He has made about 60 films in about 40 years and plenty of them would easily fit into my all time favourite top-10 films: The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Peeping Tom, Gone To Earth, A Canterbury Tale, 49th Parallel, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, A Matter of Life and Death, I Know Where I'm Going, Contraband, A Spy in Black - I can recommend them all as essential viewing if you are interested in English cinema of the 1940s and 1950s. Now the Arts Channel (in New Zealand) decided to screen one I hadn't seen before, The Edge of the World, from 1937. A tragic and powerful tale of an isolated island off the coast of Scotland (in Roman times known as Ultima Thule, the island of Foula standing in for St Kilda) affected by diminishing local resources of fuel and manpower, causing emigration, economic, social and environmental decline. It was fascinating and moving to see the stories of local families intertwined with the larger social and economic issues driving change. A constant recurrence of a cinematic theme throughout the film was gravity, which of course pulls everything down: people and sheep falling off cliffs, the pull of the wider world out there affecting the economic base of the island, fishing, livestock and crofting. The camera angles are fascinating throughout as every scene is filmed either from a upward or downward position, emphasising the will of men to fight for what they want and believe in, or being looked on by the camera acting as mother nature overwhelming the actors by the majestic cliffs, pounding seas and constant winds. You'd wish there could have been another outcome for the people involved but in the end it seems it's not possible to live at the edge of the world: you either choose to leave or die on the island.
A new version was reportedly released in 1978 ,featuring a color
sequence where the director and the actors-survivors went on a
pilgrimage to Foula.It was called "return to the edge of the world"
.This is not the version I saw and it seems that none of the other
users could see it either.It's really a pity.
Powell is my favorite English director.He's the only one who 's got a sense of mystery.His pictures are art,poetry in motion.He films the sea (a harsh mistress) and the desolate landscapes in a dazzling way.His influence on David Lean ("Ryan's daughter") is obvious.But I'm almost sure old wave French Jean Delannoy (not meant pejoratively) had this movie in mind when he made his own "Dieu a Besoin des Hommes" (a story in a remote Breton island ).And the almost documentary side of the movie predates Robert Bresson's asceticism.
Some called it melodramatic:on the contrary,Powell avoids its clichés; the unmarried mother became generally an outcast,most of all the French Marcel Pagnol films revolved around this subject.But Ruth's child is a new hope for the inhabitants.The sequence when they dance to a violin tune is the one really happy moment in the whole film.
The times are changing.The way of life their fathers used to know is coming to an end.Powell's movie gains an universal meaning :the situation he depicted happened (and is still happening) here there and everywhere.
This was the directors first film, and his budget was limited. Some of
his "actors" were local inhabitants, and the sound is not 21st
standards. Nonetheless, the film is a near historical record of the
problems faced by a small group of people living on an isolated island
that could no longer cope with the attraction of modern life which
began to draw away its young people. Besides electricity and indoor
plumbing, the 20th century offered work that attracted the young with
work and modern medicine that enabled more of their children a chance
This movie shows the anguish that splits the opinion of those who realize their ancient way of life is no longer viable.
Although the island and people depicted in the movie were fictional, there was a real Shetland Island that did choose to move to the mainland. This movie was made in 1937, and a vivid picture of the transition of European people transitioning from the 19th century into the modern world.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like Michael Powell, I was struck by the pathos when I learned of the
story of the abandonment of St Kilda, and the concomitant end of a
centuries-old way of life in this harsh but oddly beautiful place. I am
facinated by abandoned places, both modern and ancient, as well as by
the creativity employed in eking a survivalist living out of extreme,
inhospitable, barren environments far from the comforts of
civilisation. Therefore I was delighted when I learned of this movie's
existence, hoping to get an insight into the islanders' way of life,
lingering shots of the village ruins, and a sense of the pathos of the
I didn't quite get what I was hoping for, as some things seemed a little rushed in this short film, while others such as the protracted dancing at the birth took up excesive time. The key aspects of the islanders way of life are only revealed in brief glimpses. We do get a scene in the church, but without the DVD commentary we wouldn't know that the church was the island's central social institution. The occasional famines which destroyed the real St Kilda are only briefly hinted at in the film, with one brief scene talking of how the poor growing conditions will affect the harvest. I didn't fully understand the effect of the fishing boats without the DVD commentary. The laird's feudalistic power isn't really touched on - indeed when the laird makes an appearance, I didn't even know who he was. You don't get enough of a look at the old way of life to appreciate or lament that anything has been lost. Instead you jump straight into the arguments over whether or not to abandon the island, which should have been Act 2. Instead of the plot centring around the struggle to survive on Hirta, the story and the arguments over whether to leave centred around a soppy, melodramatic love story. When the islanders do decide to leave, it's all a bit of an anti-climax, without the escalating dramatic conflict one would expect leading up to the film's central moment. The two tragedies which provide the film with its drama are admittedly tense, but you can predict exactly how they'll end when the episodes have barely begun.
Despite these quibbles, I thought the film was amazing, not for its story but for its visual poetry. The cinematography is magnificent, and the shots of the island and its hardy characters take the breath away. While the stilted acting may betray the film's age, there is nothing out of date about the beautifully composed images. Some of the shots from seemingly impossible angles would make Kubrick proud. It's all the more impressive when you consider the trying circumstances in which it was filmed.
In short see the film for its spectacular must-see images, and don't worry too much about the plot.
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