Against the wishes of her bank manager father, headstrong Joan Webster journeys to the Hebridean island of Kiloran to marry Sir Robert Bellinger, a wealthy middle aged industrialist whom she does not not love. A storm forces her to take refuge on the nearby island of Mull, where she begins to fall for young naval officer Torquil MacNeil.
Predating the elaborate Technicolour fantasies like The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus and A Matter Of Life And Death, I Know Where I Am Going might well be the unheralded ace in the Powell and Pressburger pack. Conceived after the relative commercial failure of A Canterbury Tale, I Know Where I Am Going was the third instalment in Powell’s Scottish island tryptich — along with Edge Of The World and Spy In Black — and served up an enchanting mixture of comedy, fantasy, Scottish folklore, flights of fantasy and lovely locations. Hiller and Livesey make for appealing attractive leads, Hiller not afraid to let Joan become insufferable during her journey toward enlightenment and Livesey a wise, calm, gentle presence. The ensemble is filled out with Powell and Pressburger’s great eye for idiosyncratic character actors, including the bizarre bird-like Pamela Brown, Captain C.W. R. Knight as the island’s falconer and John Laurie, better known as Pte Frazier in Dad’s Army. Also keep ‘em peeled for a pre-teen Petulia Clark.
Arguably, Powell And Pressburger’s most personal film to that point, IKWIG continued their departure from the dominant mode of British cinematic realism. The movie opens with a patently fake train climbing through a mythical Scottish highlands and the mood of magical realism pervades every frame — particularly in a dream sequence in which Joan imagines she is marrying a giant corporation. Powell also has a stunning, almost spiritual feel for the landscape. Erwin Hiller’s beautiful cinematography delivers some indelible images, such as a duvet of black mist swirling across the sea.
Yet all this beguiling beauty is at the service of the film’s central thesis as Joan’s material ambitions are revealed to be petty by both the majesty of nature and the warmth of a small island mentality. “They’re not poor,” says MacNeil about Mull’s inhabitants, “they just don’t have any money.” There is an enticing simplicity in that line that is redolent of the whole film. Powell and Pressburger’s seductive argument is that the world is a wondrous place full of sublime pleasures if you keep yourself open to its magic and mysteries. As such, it is a perfect film to fall in love to and with.
One of the greatest (and sadly most forgotten) romantic comedies ever, which has not a cracking script, but some trademark-terrific visuals.