never seen a picture which smelled of the wind and
rain in quite this
way nor one which so beautifully
exploited the kind of scenery people actually
with, rather than the kind which is commercialized
as a show place."
Chandler (yes THE Raymond Chandler)
find it hard to believe that IKWIG was
once a buried gem and not standing, sparkling on a cinematic
pedestal somewhere. Granted, it's probably the most
blustery film you're ever likely to see (Scotland
has rarely been so inviting on screen, Local Hero excepted. Ah, the wind, rain, rushing water and the highlands).
But it's also timelessly romantic, impeccably acted
and looks gorgeous (in its own 40s black and white pin
sharpness way of course). IKWIG is 60
years old and tells of an ambitious woman setting off
to marry a rich man and falling for another while she
struggles to complete her journey. It's one of those
movies that because of its age has not exactly nuzzled
up to the Four Weddings and Notting
Hills of this genre and staked a justified claim
for membership in the rom-com club. The IMDB messages
on the film are rather scant and scattershot. But, despite
this lack of recognition, IKWIG is way
up the list of the best of the Archers' work. It
has a definable through line, a very specific narrative
and a playful and experimental way of unfolding that narrative.
It also has Roger Livesey and his extraordinary voice.
We have Wendy Hiller in a career defining performance
and there is also one of my favourite entrances of any
character in any movie. More on her and her rabbits in
is a playfulness apparent in IKWIG that
– at this time in cinema's short life – could be
found on very few occasions. Powell, simply put, is having
a ball. Even the design of the front credits is original
and surreal (the crew's names appear on props presented
to the camera and P&P's appear wrought in metal
on a cast iron gate clanged shut). Our heroine Joan is
a woman with serious daddy issues. She's also utterly
convinced that not only does she know her own mind, she
should follow it regardless of what life throws at her
(like the promise of romantic happiness, not a development
to be avoided – usually). In the first scene, we are led
to believe that the man she is meeting is romantically
linked to her because of all the 'darling's being
bandied about. But no. It's her father, good old
bank manager dad giving her a small fortune to travel
to Scotland to marry Berringer, a venture capitalist.
In a rebuke, her father reminds her that Berringer is
“nearly as old as me.” Joan flies back with
“What's wrong with that?” It's
almost as if she is making a swap, one salt of the earth
father for a sugar daddy.
has always had a wonderful imagination when it comes to
cinematic storytelling. If you've seen The
Small Back Room, you'll know what it feels
like to be an alcoholic in denial just from one two minute
piece of surreality courtesy of the man's extraordinary
mise en scene. Bound for Scotland on a sleeper, Joan dreams
she is marrying Berringer's huge and successful
company not the actual man (dreaming 'through' the
cellophane wrap of her wedding dress) and the last shot
of the train snaking through the countryside into Scotland
(the highlands are wearing tartan) just invites you to
smile. Joan is not able to actually get to the island
where her new man (and money spinning company) are waiting.
Because of bad weather, she is forced to stay put accepting
the hospitality of the locals. On leave from active service
in the Navy (this was war-time Britain, remember) is good
old Roger Livesey. He plays the grandly titled Laird of
Kiloran with the rather unromantic Christian name of Torquil.
He's home on leave and all he wants to do is fish
and put his feet up on the island. He has an easy and
ingratiating personality (as have each of the characters)
but the performance and physicality of the whole movie
moves up a notch when Pamela Brown comes in through her
own front door. Ah, Pamela…
a masterful editing transition (it's not showy,
it's just effortless), a wild, shadowy presence
with two sodden and enormous hounds stops and looks back
to her home (which must be quite a walk away). There's
one very short cut of the expectant visitors and then
for me the shot of the movie (and this is not to diss
Erwin Hillier's terrific exterior photography).
It's a low angle shot of those monstrous hounds
walking towards us, their tails swinging up close to the
lens, followed by the shadow herself, Catriona Potts,
played by the utterly gorgeous Pamela Brown. Powell evidently
thought so too as they fell in love on this shoot. Catriona
is a woman both men and women admire and envy. Let's
strip away any 21st century notions of beauty, obsessions
with diets, body shape and size and get to the real thing.
Here she is. And Joan knows it too. It's as if a
force of nature just swept in and Joan has to acknowledge
that this creature (whom you just know carpés every
diem) is what a woman actually is. Yes, she shoots and
skins rabbits to live off and perhaps that's not
ladylike (whatever the hell that means) but this diminutive
creature with wet scraggly hair, throwing her dead rabbit
to the side as she sees Livesey and in that low voice
bellows “Torquil!”, I defy you not to appreciate
'the real thing'. Just to empahsise my (and Powell's)
passion for Pamela, check out the adoring close up of
her at 01:00:11.
is a curse placed on the Kiloran clan. It is engraved
on a stone wall inside a small castle that all Kilorans
have avoided since time immemorial (God, I have always
wanted to say that in a piece of writing). It is a mighty
curse that reflected the terrible fate that befell (always
wanted to write 'befell' too) the lovers who were
forced to hold on to each other naked while the cuckolded
husband delighted in his awful torture of revenge. All
I need now is a valid justification to use the word 'vouchsafe'
but I know I never will (he vouchsafed…)
get to her soon-to-be husband (whom we know she will never
reach), Joan uses the tools of her 'know-where-she's-going'
world to force a young boatman out into the dangerous
waters – cash. £20. It is the exact sum of
money this young man needs to marry his sweetheart. Pamela
Brown (swoon), in a moment of chilling honesty, tells
Livesey “It's you she's running away
from…” and the lunkhead finally puts two and
two together. He joins the fated boat crew and within
moments they are headed, engineless, towards the dreaded
whirlpool, the Corryvreckan. It is – because we
care – a very tense moment despite the fact that
the actors are very plainly in no peril and they are being
rocked by burly British stagehands as the back projection
provides the whirlpool imagery.
and Torquil survive and Catriona (Pamela – and I have
done enough swooning) is gracious in Joan's total
humiliation. The next day, the weather breaks and Joan
can finally get to her intended leaving her true beloved.
What happens next is truly marvelous. We have the couple
saying goodbye in the most dizzying fashion and the curse,
which Torquil (Livesey) has avoided all his life, is revealed
to be something extraordinary. Love comes galloping back
amid the ineffably romantic strains of bagpipes and a
tear springs to one's eyes (OK,OK, my eyes, happy
now?) as the lovers re-unite.
just see this movie. It'll make you glad to be alive.
Side Note: Powell said that
he was proud of what he called 'the best special effect
of my career' (and that's quite a boast given
the movies on his CV) wreathed in and out of IKWIG.
Livesey was under contract in a London play and could
not actually go to Scotland during shooting. Anytime you
see Torquil outdoors actually on location not in front
of a projection, it is a cunningly directed body double
and it fools me every time.
first thing that assaults you on the menu after sliding
in the DVD is Roger Livesey's teeth on what must be the
poster from the original release. The artwork is basic but
for some reason, the Laird of Kiloran's gnashers are
pronounced in the way teeth shouldn't be and draw
you in so you hardly notice that there are no extras…
black and white transfer is very good and the lighting and
contrast levels are such that you want to reach out and
touch the principals. It really has been gloriously shot
despite the process work (back and/or front projected backgrounds
against which the actors are shot to suggest they are in
a car, bus, on a boat etc.) In this case it's a bus
and the process work is "Just mad, Ted." The highlands
whiz by like Dennis Hopper's POV after a tab of acid.
Dolby Digital 2.0 sound does what it says on the tin. You
can understand what's being said (unless it's in Gaelic).
You may be able to speak Gaelic but for the dramatic purposes
of the film, you shouldn't be able to. Needless to
say, the subtitles don''t cover the Gaelic, inserting
"They speak Gaelic" as a subtitle. Helpful.
Zip. Nothing. Niente. Not a high fat, emulsified offal tube
(a sausage to those who've not seen Jim Hacker elected to
No. 10). But there are always Roger Livesey's teeth. I could
stare at them for hours.