This compelling drama by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is now acknowledged as one of their finest films.
Their reworking of Chaucer's epic 14th century tale, largely set in wartime Kent, centres on Americana army sergeant John Sweet, British soldier Dennis Price and landgirl Sheila Sim who, before making a modern-day pilgrimage to Canterbury, solve the bizarre mystery of a man who pours glue over the hair of village girls at night.
Stunning cinematography (notably a superb opening shot of a medieval falcon flying up and transforming into a WW2 Spitfire) is matched by fine performances from Smith, Price, Sim and Eric Portman.
- More Powell and Pressburger Magic!
Another "quiet" gem from the great team! Outstanding characterizations and wonderful allusions to the past. Belongs in any serious film collection. See Steve Crook's wonderful web site dedicated to Powell and Pressburger for more in-depth information about The Archers and their wonderful body of art.
- A gentle gem that defies description
The major disadvantage when recommending this film to someone is that it's practically impossible to describe! It's easy enough to say what it *isn't*: it's not a detective story and it's certainly not a thriller, despite the fact that it nominally revolves around an unsolved crime. It's not a war-story, despite the fact that it is set immediately before D-Day and the main characters are intimately involved in the war effort. It's not a romance, despite the fact that two of the characters have an unhappy love-story. And it's not the Chaucerian epic one might be led to expect by the title and the opening scene - although by the end, the pilgrimage allusions turn out to be rather more strangely apt then they at first appear.
The only word I can find to give a flavour of this story is that it is above all English - as English as Ealing comedy (without the comedy), as Miss Marple (without the murder), as Elizabeth Goudge (without the magic)... and yet again I find myself defining it by what it *isn't*! It's English in a way that is quietly, deeply antithetical to the frenetic posturing of 'Cool Britannia'. It is as English as the haze over the long grass beneath the trees of a summer meadow; as polished brass and a whiff of steam as the express pulls up at a country halt; as church bells drifting in snatches on a lazy breeze, and the taste of blackberries in the sun.
It's almost impossible now to comprehend that the 1940s countryside in which this film is set was *really there*; that it was not the Second World War but its crippling aftermath that industrialised farms, banished the horse-drawn vehicles from the wheelwright's, and exchanged towering hay-wains for silage towers. Britain was determined never to starve again - and so the world that had once differed so little from that of Chaucer's time was swept away beyond recall. When it was made, this film was no more a rustic period piece than 'Passport to Pimlico', a few years later, was an urban social documentary. Subsequent events have preserved both in mute evidence of contemporary communities that are almost unbelievable today.
It is perhaps fair, therefore, to assume that the type of viewer who will watch 'Battlefield Earth' is unlikely to find this film anything other than silly, parochial and ultimately dull! Very little actually happens. The story is on occasion both humorous and poignant, but what we at first assume to be the central plot turns out not to be the point at all. The triple denouement is set up so gently and skilfully that we, too, are taken by miraculous surprise, with the true shape of the film only evident in retrospect.
It is, ultimately, a story about faith, and miracles, and pilgrimages, even in the then-modern world of shopgirls, lumbermen and cinema organists - and if that idea in itself sounds enough to put you off, as I confess it would have done for me before I watched it myself, the I will gladly add that it is a film about beauty, and hope, and unexpected friendship and laughter; and technically very accomplished to boot. The use of black and white is glorious, ranging from the glimmer in the obscurest of shadows to sun-drenched hillside, and the totally unselfconscious reference to Chaucer in the opening sequence is in these days worth the price of admission alone.
If you like gentle films - sweet-natured films - films with a deep affection for their subject - films that make you laugh and cry, but always smile - then I urge you not on any account to miss this one. If, for the moment, you require thrills, spills, forbidden passions and last-minute rescues, the pass it by and let it go on its tranquil way. When you are old and grey and full of sleep, this unassuming classic will still be there, waiting...
- Very good!
A wonderful film, as you might expect, from the cinema's greatest directorial duo. It's unique in mood and pace amongst the many Archers films that I've seen. The others move at a brisk pace, going from one plot element to the next. No harm in that, of course. It works very well for films like One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, I Know Where I'm Going!, A Matter of Life and Death and the others. A Canterbury Tale, on the other hand, stops and smells the roses as it leisurely - and semi-plotlessly - strolls through the English countryside on the trail to Canterbury Cathedral. Three young people, an American G.I. named Bob Johnson (Seargant John Sweet), a British soldier, Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price), and a young woman from London, Alison Smith (Sheila Sim), moving to the countryside for work. The all arrive in the small town of Kent on the same train, and they walk together trying to find the hotel. An assailant pops out of nowhere in the impenetrable dark and throws glue all over Alison's hair. Over the next few days they look for "the Glueman." The film doesn't always work, especially concerning the Glueman subplot, which almost seems like it is the plot for most of the movie. The investigation and solution are the weakest scenes in the film. But there are dozens of gorgeous sequences within the film. I especially love the sequence with the children playing war. The film gets especially good during its extended finale, where the three (actually four) main characters go to Canterbury, and their pilgrimages pay off. The three leads are excellent. The fourth main character, the magistrate of Kent, Thomas Colpeper (Eric Portman), is the weakest and I'd just rather forget his role in the film myself. Perhaps he will work better in subsequent viewings. The best aspect of the film is its top shelf cinematography, maybe the best black and white that I've seen from the Archers. A lot of the scenes take place, ingeniously, in total darkness. These work so much better than imaginable! 9/10.
- Perhaps the best "war" film ever made.
My first amazed viewing of this spiritually uplifting film was on a wet Sunday afternoon about fifteen years ago. I was thoroughly depressed for various reasons, but by the end of this movie, the entire world had subtly transformed itself. The delivery of the "message" of this film may seem, to modern audiences, naively done, but its power to move surely remains as robustly valid today as it must have been to audiences in war-torn Britain. (I have not seen the American version.)This is a feel-good film of the very first order.
The photography is geared towards presenting the glory of the English countryside, and beautifully conveys an England which was fast disappearing by the time war broke out. Watch especially for the shots of Alison on the downs just after looking towards Canterbury. Gorgeous!
You will either love or hate this film, but you MUST see it if you have not already done so. I've just bought it on DVD, and am ditching various copies taped from TV over the years.
PS: If anyone with any influence at Carlton reads this, please urgently consider transcribing "I Know Where I'm Going" - another fine Powell/Pressburger movie - onto DVD.
- a wartime fable for our times
Perhaps this is more significant now than ever, this quaint tale of wartime Canterbury and the ancient pilgrims whose presence is still felt. Some of the symbolism feels a little clunky - does the heroine really have to have travelled to Canterbury previously with her boyfriend 'Geoffrey' (i.e. a Chaucer reference) and why is the Glue Man so fixated on causing havoc in the blackouts? John Sweet's accent and acting has caused some other comments - I found his character jarred a little but somehow by the end, he fitted in. And the ending is curiously touching. The whole film has the usual touches of brilliance you would associate with Powell and Pressburger. Good stuff.
Eric Portman .... Thomas Colpeper, JP
Sheila Sim .... Alison Smith
Dennis Price (I) .... Peter Gibbs
Sergeant John Sweet .... Bob Johnson.
Esmond Knight .... Narrator (non-US versions)/Seven-Sisters Soldier/Village Idiot
Charles Hawtrey .... Thomas Duckett
Hay Petrie .... Woodcock
George Merritt (I) .... Ned Horton
Edward Rigby .... Jim Horton
Freda Jackson .... Prudence Honeywood
Betty Jardine .... Fee Baker
Eliot Makeham .... Organist
Harvey Golden .... Sgt. Roczinsky
Leonard Smith (II) .... Leslie
James Tamsitt .... Terry Holmes
Runtime: Complete and uncut at 124 minutes.
Black and White
If you like this you may like Went the Day Well?