On first viewing, I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) appeared a minor work between two of the Archers’ finest films, the complex A Canterbury Tale (1944) and ambitious A Matter of Life and Death (1946). But first impressions can be deceiving. Certainly one of their most conventional films on paper, Powell and Pressburger’s love affair is anything but. Like Coppolla’s chamber piece, The Conversation (1974), made between the first two parts of the operatic Godfather (1972 and 1974) series, IKWIG! is a film whose power and impact lie in its details. Pam Cook’s wonderful monograph goes some way in covering every aspect of the film’s history and the critical response to it. More importantly, her own passion for the film makes it one of the most impressive and entertaining publications so far in the BFI Classics series.
One of the main attractions of the book is Cook’s history of the Archers. Though there is no doubt that Powell and Pressburger were the driving force, she identifies the influence of numerous collaborators, whose histories impacted upon the creatively daring and often idiosyncratic films of the 1940s. A brief history of the European film industry of the 1920s highlights how the influx of continental film technicians, whose work was so different to that produced in Britain during the same period, were employed to help Britain create its own signature within world cinema. From Powell’s apprenticeship in France to the émigrés from Germany and Eastern Europe, the Archers produced a style that put British film on the map as being capable of innovation and originality. Cook highlights the work of Production designer Alfred Junge, cinematographer Erwin Hiller and composer Allen Gray, all of whom were integral throughout the early Powell and Pressburger productions. She also draws attention to the costumes of Elizabeth Haffenden, who was uncredited, but whose designs, particularly the wedding dress, play a symbolic role within the film’s critique of materialism.
Ultimately, it is Cook’s analysis of the IKWIG! itself that impresses most. The production history is merely a platform for an in-depth study of film’s narrative, themes and visual flair. She views the film in terms of its anti-materialism, which becomes the driving force behind the developing relationship between Joan Webster and Torquil MacNeil (it seems odd now that the roles played by Wendy Hiller and Roger Livsey were once offered to Deborah Kerr and James Mason), as well as its mysticism. A contrast to the more Brigadoon-like representations of Scotland – though not entirely free of cliché – IKWIG profits from Powell’s previous excursion to the highlands, The Edge of the World (1937). Even though much of it was filmed at Denham, an illusion created by Junge’s remarkable backdrops, Powell imbues the film with the same ethnographic slant as his earlier work, be it within a more structured narrative. And within this narrative, he draws parallels between landscape and legend, which eventually converge in the sequence at the Corryvrekan whirlpool.
Cook’s analysis concludes with an aspect of IKWIG! that is rarely dealt with, but which offers an explanation for its enduring popularity. Unlike most romantic dramas or comedies, IKWIG! offers no definitive ending. Certainly, Joan and Torquil finally succeed in sealing their romance, but unlike the woman who knew where she was going at the start of the film, the road to the future seems far from clear. They have reached a crossroads and it is up to the audience to speculate on where their relationship will take them.
Pam Cook’s book is a pleasure to read. Informative and impassioned, it should occupy as important a place as Ian Christie’s Arrows of Desire, on any Powell and Pressburger fan’s bookshelf.