There are times in every woman’s life when being a bit headstrong can be an excellent, and perhaps the only, way forward.
Think Scarlett O’Hara, Cleopatra, Mrs. Miniver, Joan of Arc, Norma Rae, Thelma and Louise. Q: Where would those first ladies of film be if they’d played by the rules and listened to the men in their lives who thought they knew best? A: On the cutting room floor.
But what if being successfully headstrong comes at the cost of turning a deaf ear to what the woman’s own heart is trying to tell her?
That’s the situation in “I Know Where I’m Going,” a 1945 British gem released in the U.S. in 1947. It stars Wendy Hiller as 25-year-old Joan Webster, who, in post-World War II England, means to have all the prestige and class her life has thus far denied her. Where she’s going — after meeting her father at a posh restaurant to tell him of her intentions — is to Kiloran, a ficticious island off Scotland, where she is to become the bride of Sir Robert Bellinger, a man made wealthy by the war and twice her age.
But the journey — both physical and emotional — proves far more difficult than she imagined.
The train ride north from Manchester gives her a gratifying taste of the privileges she craves. But before she can reach her goal, a whipping wind and thick fog maroon her in a tiny Hebrides village with only one telephone. Also stranded is Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey), a soft-spoken Royal Navy officer on leave and headed home. The two are thrown together in the only accommodation in Tobermoray, the closest town to Port Erraig, from whence the ferry leaves for Kiloran.
Torquil is attracted to Joan, but she has her eyes on the prize of the life she imagines awaits her when the storm calms.
The local villagers, affectionately portrayed, watch with insightful eyes, silently comparing Joan’s shabby values with those of a local couple whose love for each other is challenged by the straitened circumstances in which they live.
Impatient with the delay and fearful of the seductive powers of both Torquil and the craggy cliffs and frothy waves all around her, Joan bribes a needy youngster to attempt the crossing to Kiloran in a small boat. The boat is swept into Corryvrekan, a huge whirlpool created by tidal currents converging in the narrow channel between islands.
Only in the aftermath of that near-fatal encounter does Joan begin to realize that her attraction to Torquil is out of her control.
Among the qualities that raise “I Know Where I’m Going” high above the level of an ordinary film romance is the spectacular use of scenery. Gorgeously photographed in black and white by Erwin Hillier, this is the Scotland of grand myths, petty superstitions and proud traditions honored for generations.
There’s also a superb script — by Emeric Pressburger — that comments on English class distinctions without getting preachy, and delivers a cast of supporting characters who are forces of nature worthy of the landscape in which they dwell.
The picture was produced and very ably directed by Michael Powell, with Pressburger. It runs a lively, brisk 92 minutes.
It will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 16 in the Gill Patterson Community Room on the lower level of the library. Come see this one, please.
Bring a pal. You’ll both enjoy it.