There is perhaps no more iconic filmmaking duo than Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, collaborating from the very late 30s all the way to the early 70s. Relatively early on in their partnership, they developed I Know Where I’m Going (1945), a class focussed romance that melds the pretty stuffy with the quite progressive, and some great location filmmaking.
The film focusses on Joan Webster, played by Wendy Hiller, as she travels from London to an island in the relative middle of nowhere, to marry her richass fiancée. Of course things don’t go smoothly and she finds herself stuck on the mainland, within viewing distance of her beloved’s island, but unable to get there. Here she spars repeatedly with the (apparent) everyman Torquil MacNeil, who is also aiming to get to the island. The setup is a pretty typical upper class person stranded with, and falling for, ‘regular folk’, kind of deal. And despite a few wrinkles, that’s more or less how it plays out. Though there are some pretty avant-garde sequences used early on, to suggest here marriage is to a company not a person, and focusing in on the idea of her selling out her identity for that. The character of Joan is a major positive too, adding something a little different, especially in the very contemporary way she interacts with the men around her. Which makes the general averageness of the plot even more disappointing. It’s quite stuffy, with various social visits being trudged through. You can see what Powell and Pressburger are doing, setting up a version of society to bore her and for her to rebel against. Straight into the arms of her new love interest obviously. But it’s all quite tiresome getting there. The schmaltzy romance stuff is similarly received, constant close-ups and longing looks. However the story does have some nice notes of how fate intervenes in our lives, often to very positive ends.
Toward the end, those themes of class do re-emerge, now with quite a sharp edge to them. Joan’s selfishness and impatience comes flooding out and she is very willing to exert her economic power over the lower classes to get what she wants when she wants it. A lot stronger an element than the love story guff, which is only bearable due to the performances. Overall the film is really about her embracing her ‘true class’ rather than another man. Though not in as negative a way as that suggests. The film looks really great. The location shooting, full of fog and moors is used to great effect. It really feels like these locations are bearing down on the characters and influencing their lives in a meaningful way. There is some beautiful framing, the use of light shadow and fog really helping to take advantage of the great locales. It’s an incredibly strong aesthetic. Some of the scenes at sea also really effectively use the location available. There is some great rear-projection work that turns them into quite intense action sequences. The visual effects never distance you from the action. The opposite in fact as it realistically almost induces sea sickness. Really effective. Plus there are whirlpools which are always rad.
Verdict: The strength of I Know Where I’m Going lies not in the plot, but in the way it is brought to life. The location shooting, sea-based sequences and above average acting help to elevate the film beyond the plodding details of the story. Stubby of Reschs