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This wonderfully charming film from the Powell and Pressburger team is
probably their most underrated great work: the most recent "Sight and
Sound Critics Poll" of British films didn't even include this gem in
the top 100. If it means anything, "Trainspotting" was in the top 10.
What elevates the film beyond other light-hearted romances is chiefly the impeccable acting and tight screenplay by Emeric Pressburger, probably the greatest English screenwriter to have ever lived. This might be generic laudation to any film, but by no means is Wendy Hiller's performance generic. As the young gold-digger-type woman, Hiller is slightly bewildered at being sidetracked to the Scottish natives, but she is much more fluxed when she realizes she is falling for a common Scotsman, and not the rich lord she envisioned. So what is the reaction to this bafflement? A fierce sense of panic that is very honest in its depiction of desperation. It might be puzzling to the viewer why our heroine should seek royalty so vehemently, but because of Hiller's expert frenzied facial tics, we see her slowly realize her ridiculousness herself. In an age where critics desire constant plausibility and "believability" in romances, Pressburger reminds us that attraction is something that can largely be out of our control. Hiller's character, an obsessive control freak, is the perfect example of one who cannot comprehend this fact.
The perfect foil for Hiller's hysteria, of course, is Rover Livesey's soft-spoken Torquil Macneil. Before Ashton Kucher-like effete twigs came to dominate on-screen masculinity (or Vin Diesel-like muscle-studded goons on the other extreme), the quiet dignity and charisma of a man like Livesey could light up a screen without any histrionics or wrestling moves. Those still looking for romantic realism will recognize that like Hiller's character, Livesey is just as strong-willed, and more importantly, is a match in wits and a counterbalance in earnest, world-weary personality. Their mutual attraction is perfectly played out in the strangely electric silences as much as the dialogue.
But the performances enhance what is already a remarkable script. The very basic premise of the love story can be read by many other astute reviewers on this website who also see the merits of this film. Powell and Pressburger have always been smart enough to embed their love stories with some heavy ideas: in "The Red Shoes," it was love vs. art; in "I Know Where I'm Going!" it is love vs. money. Sounds simple enough, but unlike other romances, these filmmakers can glean insights on the definition of poverty. While primitive (the one phone in town is at the post office) and poor (the staff in charge there can't break change for a pound), the villagers are portrayed affectionately with class, dignity, and culture, especially in a wonderful dance scene that seems to affectionately embody both a small community's close familiarity with one another, as well as the drunken festival spirit. Like Livesey's character says at one point in the film, "They aren't poor, they just haven't got any money." It's a succinct but revealing statement about the human condition in a time where money did not necessarily determine one's social class because of many other admirable factors. Contrast this cultural milieu with a film like "8 Mile," in which the characters are "real" if they are from the "streets" or living with trailer trash parents, and "phony" if they have an education from a private school, and you can see how our self-important attitudes are progressing.
Lastly, I must mention that this is one of the most exquisitely photographed black and white films I have ever seen, and the Criterion remastering does the film ample justice. I have been harping on the merits of the high-mindedness of Pressburger, but the appropriate plaudits must be dealt for Powell's emotionally expressive vistas that equal his achievements in "The Edge of the World." From the craggy peaks of the highest cliffs or the frothy waves of every bank, the film's mystic sense of ambiance is drawn by a foggy mist that pervades most scenes. For once, grand scenery doesn't dwarf the characters; every picturesque shot either captures the characters in the beauty of the element, or is intended as a complement to the characters' emotions. It's a great film.
It's really "It Happened One Night" -- spoiled girl, on the way to wed her
rich fiance, is escorted by a younger man and falls in love with him -- but
it's so much more. Powell's and Pressburger's imaginations are boundless.
They create characters who are lovable eccentrics, but believable. They
shift tone effortlessly from comedy to thriller to travelogue to romance and
back again. They employ every resource of cinema, without being showy about
it: watch the camera tricks in the first ten minutes alone. They fill the
movie with diversions that have little to do with the plot but create a
beautifully picaresque atmosphere.
I don't know of any other movie that is so inconsequential on the face of it, yet packs such an enormous emotional wallop. Ostensibly an assembly-line romantic comedy, it's really about spiritual growth, opening yourself to all sorts of new experiences and learning to see things from others' points of view. It's whimsical, but not thin. With its moody photography, wonderful musical score, and numerous coups de cinema, it lingers in your memory months after you've seen it. And the ending is one of the most satisfying in all the movies.
One minor complaint: Hiller is a tad too steely in the beginning, too crisp, too calculating-actress-playing-calculating-character. As she succumbs to the charms of her surroundings and her leading man, though, she's bewitching. And Livesey has one of the most beautiful speaking voices you'll ever hear. Their chemistry is terrific. And when he recites a Celtic poem ending in, "you're the one for me," and looks right at her, it's quite sexy.
There's no other movie quite like it. And I defy anyone to see it on a date and not fall in love with his/her vis-a-vis.
I love it that this page is as full as a cornucopia with praise from
fans of "I Know Where I'm Going."
In the same way that it is delightful for a movie fan to discover this little-known, black-and-white, Powell and Pressburger romance, it is also delightful to encounter other fans of the movie here.
"I Know Where I'm Going" is a quiet and adorable movie. It gives you a Scotland that really exists; if you aren't lucky enough to visit someday, you can visit by slipping into your jammies, brewing up some tea, putting out all the lights, and watching this movie.
Star Wendy Hiller was memorable, when she was younger, for her Eliza Doolittle, opposite Leslie Howard's Henry Higgins. When she was a bit older, she played Paul Scofield's / St. Thomas More's wife in "A Man for All Seasons."
Here Hiller plays Joan, a driven golddigger who is given pause for thought by a less-than-wealthy but highly noble Scottish Laird, Roger Livesy, whom she can't escape from when a gale postpones her marriage, which was scheduled to occur on an isolated island.
Joan's groom was to be a nouveau riche industrialist, who is renting the island, and who happens to be old enough to be her father. As Joan's scandalized father himself points out.
The DVD notes tell you what this movie had to say about war-time Britain, about Winston Churchill's being kicked out of office, about rationing and the loss of empire.
But ... enough of all that. This is a love story, the love story of the characters on the screen, and the love of its fans for this movie. Watching "I Know Where I'm Going" induces an atmosphere of coziness, tradition, mystery, tartan wool and fierce storms, of both the meteorological *and* cardiac varieties.
Enjoy the love story, the Scottish burrs, the rafter folklore, the golden eagle, the lead couple's first kiss, the wolfhounds silhouetted against the mist.
My only regret is that this film is so short ... I wish I could recommend another film as a double feature to fill in the afterglow this film induces... but what? "Brigadoon," a Hollywood musical about a mystical Scottish village, is too heavy-handed in comparison. Disney's "Thomasina" is sweet, but maybe too sweet.
Let's face it ... they don't make enough movies like "I Know Where I'm Going." Sweet but dry as scotch; scratchy as thistle. Mystical as an ancestral curse but clear-eyed as the first clear day after a storm breaks. How many romantic comedies ask you if you know how to skin a rabbit, and then show you a golden eagle eating one, quite graphically, on camera?
Sigh. All I can say is, I envy those who haven't seen this movie yet. You have a real pleasure ahead of you.
Two things, though, you should watch for:
(1) Our first glimpse of Scotland comes as part of the heroine's queer dream on the train: we see a series of friendly rounded hills, all made out of tartan. It's a lovely image. It's also our first hint that our heroine has even the tiniest bit of romanticism about her. It later takes every force of man and nature in the real Scotland to bring it out.
(2) The locals she stays with are a nice bunch. They're not cloyingly sweet; but Powell and Pressburger don't present us with insularity and narrow-mindedness as if such traits are meant to be endearing, in the way that so many hymns of praise to small communities do. Anyway: watch for the cameo given to Petula Clark, that young girl with glasses. She only gets a few lines, but it's a great part.
This is only the second Powell/Pressburger film I've seen (and only the fourth film of Powell's). I'm impressed. Are they all this good?
It's a shame that so few people have seen this gem of a movie during
the last half century, as it is a little masterpiece, perfectly honed
and crafted, without an unnecessary scene or line of dialogue. This is
the kind of neglected film you dream about discovering, but so rarely
do. Of all the celebrated productions given the world by the
multi-talented team of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, this is the
one that should stand as their monument.
The story, in its very bare bones is this: a stubborn & headstrong young woman of Manchester travels to Scotland's Inner Hebrides to marry her very rich fiancé on the remote island he's rented. Foul weather strands her on the Isle of Mull where she meets a rather dashing, if somewhat penniless, laird. Then...you'll have to see the rest for yourself. Suffice it to say that the plot includes a ruined castle, an ancient curse, and the terrifying whirlpool of Corryvreckan...
Dame Wendy Hiller & Roger Livesey are perfect as the main characters. The excellent supporting cast includes Walter Hudd as a highly efficient private secretary, Finlay Currie as a craggy old fisherman, Capt. C. W. R. Knight, F.Z.S. as an eccentric English colonel with a passion for raptors, Pamela Brown as a no-nonsense Islander, gentle Jean Cadell as the Tobermory postmistress, Catherine Lacey & Valentine Dyall as a slightly boorish English couple tenanting a large castle, young Petula Clark as their serious little daughter, Nancy Price as an elderly aristocratic Scotswoman with wonderful memories & John Laurie as a boisterous soldier celebrating his parents' Diamond Anniversary.
The splendid Glasgow Orpheus Choir appears as performers at the Campbell Céilidh. The production is greatly enhanced by location filming on Mull, and Erwin Hillier's special photographic effects.
I take this down once a year and watch it as it delights me on so many
I love the character portrayed by Wendy Hiller, an independent woman, confident of the direction of her life, the wealthy husband she has selected, the wedding just around the corner.
Then her plans start to unravel as an impoverished laird walks into her life and it is never the same again. Roger Livesey is wonderful in this also and the location shooting in Scotland, even though B & W, is breathtaking. The music, particularly "My Nut Brown Maiden" is beautifully done along with the old ceilidh dancing.
Some wonderful bit parts also. Loved Petula Clark as an eccentric child. Trivia lovers: I had read that Roger and Wendy were not physically together throughout the making of this movie. In all of the shots of them together, body doubles and reaction shots were used. I have viewed it in the light of this knowledge and it could be true.
Also, for those of you from across the pond and of an older vintage, Roger Livesey played Doctor Dale for years in the BBC's "Mrs. Dale's Diary".
I gave it a 9 out of 10. Certain movies are just "Satisfying" and this is one of them.
If I could take only one movie with me to a desert island, this would be
Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey are so vibrant and every scene is a joy to
Part of the chemistry is that Hiller is assertive and on top of everything and Livesey is more vulnerable and searching -- she resists him and he reaches out to her -- I think of Virginia Woolf's line about how the sexiest thing is if a woman is "man-womanly" and a man is "woman-manly."
My favorite moment comes early on, when Hiller says, about the eccentric colonel, "He's an odd one, isn't he," and Livesey responds, "Who isn't." There's so much feeling and humanity in how he says this -- so much depth -- I fall in love with his character and this movie every time.
Whenever I am asked what my favorite movie of all time is, I laugh and say
it's an impossible question, but if pressed, I usually say it's I KNOW WHERE
I'M GOING. I never, ever tire of watching this movie. It is a beautiful
picture in every way. On the one hand, it is perfectly crafted with
extraordinary visuals ("a new visual trick every minute," said Powell), and
on the other, the story is a gem of romanticism.
The movie is ultimately about Wendy Hiller's character coming to terms with her emotions, with her romanticism, with the idea that love is something one cannot and should not control, and that the greatest thing about love is allowing it to wash over you and transform you. Hiller is transformed, and the process is a miraculous sight to behold. You will be transformed, too. The movie gets you to experience the process of falling in love, and it does so through a magnificent story and acting, and directing choices which especially use the Hebrides landscape to sort of cast a spell on the characters and on you. The landscape is one of the most special elements of this picture. See how carefully Hiller's train journey is presented..... it's like she's being transported to another world, a powerful world of romanticism and emotion.
On the surface, there is not much "plot" to this picture. But underneath, there is so much going on that the movie is tremendously engaging on an emotional level. It also contains what I think is the greatest, most joyous movie wedding of all time!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I can only agree with the other fans of IKWIG here in praising this movie.
A few corrections: Joan Webster, the heroine, does *not* have a private
income, she got to know her fiancé because he's the owner of Consolidated
Chemical Industries, where she works. It's not clear from the film, but
apparently Powell and Pressburger said she is supposed to be a chemist (not
a receptionist) at CCI. Also, the money her father gives her is not an
allowance from him, but her own savings - she's cleaning out her bank
account. The reason he has the money is because he's a bank manager, and
presumably her account is with his bank.
Also, her fiancé, Sir Robert Belinger, a rich industrialist, was probably knighted for "services to the crown", but I don't think he's a lord, and I don't think that Torquil MacNeil, the hero, is "descended from royalty", just the local aristocracy.
Somebody mentioned a "witch's curse". A family curse certainly is part of the story, but the woman who started it was not a witch, and no one ever had a better reason for cursing someone than she did (and in the end, of course, it turns out not to be a curse at all)!
I read a review saying that the film is great, but Wendy Hiller is too unsympathetic as Joan. Where??? If I had to decide what I love best about this film (after the whole atmosphere), it would be Wendy Hiller's performance. She starts out as a sophisticated, slightly brittle city girl, but as the story unfolds, you can just feel the vulnerability and deep emotions under the brittle shell, as if it were happening to you. Now, that's acting!
I always look forward to the scene at Port Erraig, when Joan arrives expecting the boat that will take her to Kiloran, and the islands start to cast their "spell" on us. In the fog, all you can see is the mysterious outlines of the people waiting there, and the music fits the scene. I especially love the "seals singing" - I wonder if seals really do "sing" like that? The Gaelic contributes to the atmosphere, too - I'd love to ask someone who knows Gaelic if they're speaking the real thing, and if the accents of the actors are right!
Other favorites: Pamela Brown's luminous performance as Catriona MacLean, the eagle-training Colonel, the chemistry between the two leads, the on-location filming, Roger Livesey's voice (especially in the scene at Moy Castle where he begins "I'd better introduce myself" - I'm a sucker for that one!), and the underlying message of the film. Others have mentioned Petula Clark's small but notable performance as Cheryl. I think Powell and Pressburger did a fine job of showing Cheryl as a real child here, not as a sickeningly sweet Hollywood child. Cheryl is different from her affectionate but oblivious parents, and different again from Joan.
Has anybody else noticed that the timing is off in this film? The story works both dramatically and emotionally, but the timing *is* wrong! The most obvious slip is that Torquil announces at least twice that he has eight days' leave from the navy. On the second full day (at Achnacroish), he says that he has six more days, which is about right, but the next day they attempt to cross to Kiloran, and the day after that he's headed back to his ship, which leaves at least three days unaccounted for! A small thing: at Catriona's house, Torquil tells Joan that he's known the island of Kiloran for 29 years, and she replies "I shouldn't have thought you as old as that". I'm sorry, Roger Livesey looks good, but he looks his age (late 30s, early 40s - I believe he was 39 when he made the movie), not under 29!
Anyway, this is a quiet but wonderful movie. Watch it, more than once if necessary, and give it a chance to work its magic on you - you'll be glad you did!
Perhaps the most charming movie I have ever seen. So beautifully filmed and mirthfully realized. Wendy Hiller & Roger Livesey are both brilliant and irrepressible. The Scot spirit is most beautifully realized. From start to finish, one of the most enjoyable viewings I've ever had.
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