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MOVIES: Made in England: The Films of Powell & Pressburger

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If I had to pinpoint my two favourite directors in the game, it would be Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

They need no introduction. The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death are iconic, their masterpieces, and the BFI Southbank airing a retrospective to commemorate The Red Shoes meant that I got the chance to see their work, and Black Narcissus, on the big screen – a real spectacle of timeless proportions. The wartime drama of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp that succeeds in giving life to a comedic parody of a figurehead of war propaganda stands next to a group of nuns slowly losing their mind in an isolated location of some of the most iconic films of all time; and Made in England explores the birth of that partnership and the influence of their work on the filmmakers around them. They are – as you quickly learn from the passionate love that Martin Scorsese has for this duo, your favourite filmmaker’s favourite filmmaker – as they pass down their craft to the next generation of movie directors.

Made in England is a perfect behind the scenes retrospective with Scorsese delivering an intro where he talks about always wanting to know who gave the order to “Cut” the film between Powell and Pressburger, especially when they made their Archers company. It seems to be Powell – his work outside of the partnership with the iconic horror film Peeping Tom is also given a hefty amount of focus, moreso than Emeric Pressburger, and the film could easily have been a biopic about Powell as much as it is about Powell and Pressburger. But the partnership between the two icons is instantaneous and you see why they had so much in common and got on so well – I’d love to have anything sort of that level of trust that they have in each other.

David Hinton does a good job at allowing Scorsese to sit back and talk; and there are few directors more engaging than Scorsese at making you care about the craft of film. After all, his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, played a key role in shaping Scorsese’s influences. The sheer amount of red in Raging Bull is a direct result of The Red Shoes, but in the friendship between Powell and Scorsese you see Powell not afraid to tell Scorsese that it is too much red. The best documentary should have you wanting to watch anything about its subject and even though I watched all of the Powell and Pressburger films last year, not only does it leave me itching to return to them, it also leaves me itching to return to Scorsese’s iconic work, and I could’ve used a longer length to touch on how his work beyond Raging Bull draws from Powell & Pressburger, as I’m sure there’s more there.

Of course Made in England wouldn’t be complete without a jab at Winston Churchill, “a wonderful leader, but a terrible film critic”, [doubts about his wonderful leadership exist], and the archive footage of Powell and Pressburger themselves put them on the spot for their courageous battle against censorship and the power of free speech during wartime. Few filmmakers have been bolder, courageous – and few would die for their art. Michael Powell is one of these such men and there is no greater reward than a deep dive into their filmography.

Made in England is released in cinemas from May 10 across the UK and Ireland.




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