In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's stunningly photographed comedy, romance flourishes in an unlikely place-the bleak and moody Scottish Hebrides. Wendy Hiller stars as a headstrong young woman who travels to these ... more »remote isles to marry a rich lord. Stranded by stormy weather, she meets a handsome naval officer (Roger Livesey) who threatens to thwart her carefully laid-out life plans.« less
"What are the truly great, classic romances on film ? Many would think of "Casablanca", and justifiably so. However, in its own charming, subtle way, "I Know Where I'm Going" deserves a high place on any such list. My wife and I decided to watch this as our "Valentine's Day" movie--a perfect choice.I suppose the big question is--why is a movie that is so predictable, so great ? As usual, the answer is a combination of fine ingredients--script, direction, setting and performances, both lead and support.Dame Wendy Hiller stars as a bright, independent and arrogant young woman who "knows where she is going". Actually, she is "going" to a remote island off the west coast of Scotland to marry a much older, but incredibly wealthy man. There is never any suggestion of a relationship between these two people or that they love one another. It is presented to us as an "arranged" marriage, just as this fellow ( we never actually see him on screen ) would set up one of his business deals. Of course, fate intervenes.Several days of bad weather prevent our heroine from leaving the coastal village to meet her intended on the island. During this time, she meets a naval officer who also happens to be the local laird, played by Roger Livesey. Even though he is attracted to Ms. Hiller, the Livesey character does not try to "sweep her off her feet"--he simply opens her eyes to the charms and rewards of a simple life where "people are not poor--they just don't have any money". Before long, she develops feelings for this man, which makes her even more anxious to reach the island and her husband-to-be, so that she can keep her word and "do the right thing". Of course, you can't fight fate--can you ?There are various subplots involving an ancient Scottish curse, a terrifying encounter with a whirlpool, and relationships involving some of the local people. Although shot in black and white, the beauty of Scotland is definitely one of the "stars" of this film. While Hiller and Livesey are superb in the leading roles, they receive fine support from Pamela Brown and a group of Scottish actors, including Finlay Currie. Actually, were there any films involving Scotland from the 30s to 60s which did not have Finlay Currie in the cast ? He is like the patron saint of Scottish movie actors !Criterion, as usual, gives us a beautiful image, and some nice extras to go with this Powell/Pressburger classic. When Martin Scorcese is asked if he would "remake" the film, he basically says no--why mess around with perfection ? Thank you, Mr. Scorcese--a man of taste, as well as talent !This is a movie where you can just curl up with your partner, relax ( except for that whirlpool ! )and enjoy some unforgettable characters who learn what is really important in life. A wonderful DVD to own. Now--when is the next flight to Scotland ?"
One of the World's Great Films. Really.
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 09/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of the great romantic movies, and like all of the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger films, it's quirky and original. Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) has always known where she's going. She's headstrong and determined to marry a man who is wealthy and has position. Her fiance is an industrialist (this is at the tail end of WWII), older than she, who is living on a leased island off the coast of Scotland. They're to be married on the island, and Joan takes the train to a small village on the coast, where she'll go across on the ferry. Bad weather sets in and she has to wait at the home of another woman, a woman of common sense and little money, who also has staying with her an old friend and naval commander, Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey).
This is Joan Webster's story, her determination to get to the island, her growing unease with MacNeil because he doesn't fit into her plans, her putting at risk a young couple who are in love and, as she comes to realize, may have better values than she does. Of course, there's a legend about the lairds of Kiloran, with a curse carved into the walls of a crumbling castle. There are villagers who are unique but not condescended to. There is an atmosphere of fog and mist and sun which is beautifully photographed. There is a storm-swept boat journey into the teeth of a giant whirlpool, all the scarier because it was filmed in the days before CGO.
Roger Livesey is terrific as MacNeil, the last of the lairds of Kiloran. He made this movie only a couple of years after he did The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp for the Archers. Here he finds himself attracted to this headstrong young woman, then falling in love with her.
Pamela Brown plays his friend. She was a first-rate actress plagued with bad health. Here she's all common sense but with also a great deal of understanding. She's a wonderful looking creature.
And there's Wendy Hiller. In my view this is the best movie role she ever had. She nails the part with her certitude, her unease knowing that despite her intentions her plans may be changing, her final recognition that she has been wrong about a lot of things.
At the end, MacNeil enters the ruins and breaks the curse...and we realise what the curse was really all about...then hears in the distance the pipers playing, slowly growing louder. These were the pipers hired to play at Joan's wedding and he last saw them and Joan as they prepared to sail across to the island. He looks out and sees the pipers, led by Joan, marching along the road toward him. And then, without strings or lush orchestrations, the old Scottish folk song kicks in sung simply...
I know where I'm going, I know who's going with me, The Lord knows who I love, But the de'il knows who I'll marry.
I'll have stockings of silk, Shoes of fine green leather, Combs to buckle my hair And a ring for every finger.
Feather beds are soft, Painted rooms are bonny; But I'd leave them all To go with my love Johnny.
Some say he's dark, I say he's bonny, He's the flower of them all My handsome, coaxing Johnny.
Well, if you don't get choked up, all you have beating in your chest is a hunk of muscle.
This is one of the great Powell and Pressburger movies. It's not just romantic, but it's romantic without being sentimental. It's a great story and a great film.
The Criteron DVD transfer is excellent and the extra features are extremely good."
A haunting and treasureable film.
C. O. DeRiemer | 03/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"IKWIG (as its creative team of Powell and Pressburger dubbed it) was made on a black-and-white stock right after WWII, when technicolor film and equipment were temporarily unavailable. It was the tale of a London-based woman who has always known what she's wanted all her life, and has decided to marry a wealthy, nice, but elderly business tycoon. ("You can't marry Consolidated Chemical Industries!" sputters her father. "Can't I?" is her reply.) He has rented a sprawling castle on a distant isle of the remote, nature-claimed Hebrides Islands, off the coast of Scotland, and she's traveling to meet him for the wedding, there. Unfortunately, the weather doesn't cooperate, and she's stuck for days one island short of her goal, where she encounters endless local traditions, people, and scenery, along with the young Laird of Killoran. Her desperation to achieve her goal nearly causes the death of several people, and has a profound effect on her understanding of the culture she's dropped into from London.I would venture to call IKWIG the uber-chick film. It has several of the qualities that succeed so well in romance novels/film making: a self-reliant, intelligent heroine; a rugged hero who is at first perceived as the antagonist; a growth in understanding about the world around her, that allows ultimately for a complete change of POV in the heroine. It is that rare creature, a romance film that isn't a romantic comedy. It has some brilliantly inventive comic moments, especially (and significantly) before the film moves leaves England--like the heroine's dream sequence as she sleeps aboard a train, climaxing in a distant shot from above that has the hills covered in tartan as the train passes into Scotland--but that isn't the focus. (If anything, it is a bit of magical theater that represents a flight *away* from reality, showing us the early values of the heroine; just as the culture she finds in the Hebrides becomes a massive section of magical theater which, less brilliant, hammers away at her preconceptions both through its human and elemental aspects.)However, there are many things about IKWIG that lift it above the chick film genre presented by such horrific stuff as Scriptless in Seattle. Powell was in love with the Hebrides, and, unusually for a fictional film of this period, IKWIG is filled with the culture of its surroundings. There's no sense of embarassing "types" as in so many Hollywood films-on-location, but rather more than a dozen subsidiary characters, none of them models, who fit naturally into their assigned roles, with or without dialog, and contribute to the film's sense of otherness. The writing is unsentimental and never cloys, but brings out many of the local traditions, superstitions, and myths surrounding the Hebrides in a natural and seemingly impromptu fashion; so that when we attend a party given in honor of the sixtieth wedding anniversary of the Laird of the Campbells, we actually see three bagpipers playing as the floor shakes under the heels of dancers; and we witness an extremely good amateur a capella group sing a glee. IGWIG takes its time to give us the full value of these things, and we're left grateful for the sense of connection. How different it feels than Pretty Lady, with a cliched plot hitched to endless shopping sprees and "let's do lunch" dates.The extraordinary beauty of the environment was captured live without special effects--in fact, Powell said they never used a smoke machine; all their fog, brilliant sunshine, gales, and scenery were natural. Everything save the interiors (and shots with the Laird; Livesey had a commitment that kept him in London) were made on location, near a village of several hundred inhabitants which was largest settlement on the isle. Erwin Hillier, the editor on the film, was a student of Fritz Lang, and much preferred the heavily contrasted depth photography he'd been trained in to the soft-edged, romantic tone of Hollywood, or the stolidly outlined b&w of contemporary British films. The script is subtle, rich, and impeccably characterized, with a lot going on beneath the surface. (For example, it's a film about growing up emotionally; of coming to terms with the world around you, and determining what values are real. Yet on another level, there's an unstated three-way contrast among the heroine, an ambitious, educated, lower-class girl, the tycoon and his new money, waiting out the war safely in his island castle, and the traditional upper-middle class landowners and gentry of the Hebrides, impoverished by war deprivations but quietly, heroically making do.) The acting is flawless, without any of the "beautiful people" syndrome in evidence which has so dogged cinema over the years. A comparative failure upon its release (critics and audience weren't in the mood for mystical landscapes and romance after WWII), it's racked up numerous awards and a very large following, since. Martin Scorsese speaks of it as among his favorite films. Although a few stylistic points creak with age (notably the use of music in the background behind dialog in some sections), this is a powerful, lyrical, intimate film with enormous replay value, thanks to the great subtlety of its images and performances. If you're looking for the perfect film to see with a date, or a loved one, consider this. Even if you're not, consider it, anyway. You won't regret it."
Beautifully scripted, acted and photographed.
C. O. DeRiemer | 09/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Bless my public library having offered this on video tape in the past, and bless the Criterion Collection for now making it available on DVD. This simple movie has not one false step. Those who have only seen Wendy Hiller in old age (e.g., in "A Man for All Seasons") will love seeing her play a modern (1940's) woman who "knows where she's going." In this case, she is going to the Scottish Hebrides to marry one of the richest men in the world when a storm intervenes, stranding her among an eccentric mix of locals, including a (young, handsome, down-to-earth) naval officer on leave from the war.The rest of the cast is as charming as Hiller, playing characters who are utterly believable. (A young Petula Clark endures particularly materialistic parents, who are not, of course, locals.)A DVD edition should make the black and white photography of this film even more striking."
A great film and a remarkable locale
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 08/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were Great Britain's supreme exoticists. What is remarkable is that their exoticism was not relegated to those parts of the globe usually associated with the remoteness and alien. BLACK NARCISSUS was, in this way, the exception rather than the norm. More often, they managed to find exoticism far closer to home, such as in the magic of THE RED SHOES, the unexpected intersection of heaven and earth in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, or even in the life of a relatively average Englishman in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP. Thus, it is not at all surprising that Powell (who had a lifelong love of the Scottish Isles) and Pressburger managed to find a remarkably exotic locale within the British Isles, specifically in the Scottish Isles, primarily on the Isle of Mull, in the film I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING (1945). Although they had already achieved considerable success in other films, this film kicks off the greatest creative period of their partnership, after this one making such masterpieces as A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946), BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), and THE RED SHOES (1948).
I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING really isn't like any other film one can see. The setting is incredibly unique. Watching the film, it is a bit unnerving to realize there is such an unknown and relatively unvisited area so exceedingly near the rest of Europe. The landscape shots are extraordinarily beautiful and capture a wild and untamed region, despite the human habitation. Much of the joy of the film lies in living cinematically for an hour or two in a place that seems almost magical it is so unique. And indeed, there is magic, even if it is only the kind that movies provide. The irony of the title lies in the fact that our heroine, Wendy Hiller, believes she knows where she is going, but the islands and the sea prove themselves to be forces of nature to be respected: they will not always humble themselves to human planning.
The film is driven not merely by a great locale and first rate direction, but a marvelous cast. There are simply not enough films featuring either Roger Livesey or the young Wendy Hiller (she did, thankfully, make far more films later in life, so stage actors often do, film being less stressful on the body than acting on stage-witness actors like Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellan, who turned more and more to film after the age of sixty). Livesey is always a delight, with his soft yet rough voice, and his rabbit-toothed grin. Wendy Hiller did shockingly little film work early in her acting career, but what she did was superb. She enjoyed great success in two film adaptations of George Bernard Shaw, PYGMALION and MAJOR BARBARA, before this film, and she did nothing else until after turning forty (at which point her film career mushroomed). Pamela Brown, who enjoyed a long relationship with Michael Powell and whose career was hampered by near-crippling arthritis, is memorable as Catriona. Much of the rest of the cast consists of locals, though an amazingly young Petula Clark does appear in one scene.
The great irony of a film set in the Scottish Isles is, as is famously known, star Roger Livesey was appearing in a play in London, and was unable to do any location shots. All of his scenes that required dialog were shot in London, and for all his outdoor scenes in Scotland, a double who looked like Livesey from behind was used instead. If one hasn't seen the movie, this sounds bizarre, but it actually works exceptionally well. It actually provides the prescient viewer with a fun game, spotting the shots on the quay, for instance, that were shot partly in London and partly in Scotland.
This is a very special film. It is on the list of my one hundred favorite films, and I think it will be for many others as well. The DVD contains a host of wonderful features, as in any Criterion production. Indeed, DVDs don't come much better than this."