In the constellation of fine movies about life in rural Scotland, from The Edge of the World (1937), through Tight Little Island (1949), and on through Local Hero (1983) and My Life So Far (1999), this picture, from 1945, holds a special place in my heart. The critic David Thomson has written “The big thing in I Know Where I’m Going is the ‘there’, the Scotland of the islands, the Celtic archipelago, the fringe where hard common sense joins hands with myth and magic.”
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were an Englishman and a Hungarian who, as the Archers, collaborated on directing some of the most charming British movies of the 1940s and 1950s, including this, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, and The Red Shoes. In this movie, they chose Wendy Hiller to play the lead. Hiller first came to notice with her stunning performances of Shaw heroines in the films of Pygmalion (1938) and Major Barbara (1941). Opposite her they cast Roger Livesay, a Welsh-born actor whose only lead roles, both romantic in a certain way, were in this film and in Colonel Blimp. There are many often-seen British character actors in this movie, especially ones with a Scottish connection. Pamela Brown plays Catriona, and it is said that Michael Powell fell in love with her during the filming. Thomson said “he saw ‘a spectacular young actress with resplendent chestnut hair to her shoulders, and great liquid eyes full of disdain, that could dart a glance backwards like a nervous thoroughbred. She was tall, with a long back and lovely legs, crossing the stage with swift strides and a queer long gait as if she were a cripple and trying to hide it.’”
The photography by Edwin Hillier, makes the most of the beauty of the landscape of the western isles, and the design, by Alfred Junge, brings the spirit of that landscape to the interior sets that were filmed.
Later in his life, Emeric Pressburger, in an interview, said “I think that a film should have a good story, a clear story, and it should have, if possible, something which is probably the most difficult thing - it should have a little bit of magic . . . Magic being untouchable and very difficult to cast, you can't deal with it at all. You can only try to prepare some nests, hoping that a little bit of magic will slide into them.” Powell and Pressburger did prepare the nests. The magic slid in, and it’s hard for me, anyway, to resist. I hope you enjoy I Know Where I’m Going tonight.