Originally, I had meant to write about another movie, but after talking about Wendy Hiller on the My Fair Lady post, I decided to write about my favorite Wendy Hiller movie, I Know Where I'm Going. The movie was filmed in black and white during the last months of World War II. The writers/directors/producers of the movie were Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who were also responsible for two other films in this series, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and One of Our Aircraft is Missing; and for the film based on Rumer Godden's novel, Black Narcissus.
Joan Webster is a young woman who from her earliest days has known what she wants from life. When she was five, she asked Father Christmas for silk stockings. She didn't get them, but that didn't stop her from keeping her eyes on her goal, and that goal was to have all the finer things in life. Now at 25, Joan is about to achieve her dreams.
Joan invites her father to an upscale restaurant to tell him that she is engaged to an older man, Robert Bellinger, the owner of Consolidated Chemical Industries. She explains that she is leaving on a train that evening to go to the Hebrides, where she will marry Bellinger on his island, Kiloran. When Joan arrives at the train, we see that Bellinger has arranged everything for her: a private coach, an elaborate itinerary, and a lovely wedding dress. Asleep in her berth, Joan dreams of her wedding—her wedding to Consolidated Chemical Industries. You can see this rather amusing wedding beginning at 3:13 on this video.
Arriving on the Isle of Mull, she finds for the first time in her life that she has met an obstacle that she can't overcome by force of will. The fog will not permit her to get to Kiloran. At the dock, she meets Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey), a young naval office with eight days of leave which he wants to spend on the Isle of Kiloran. Since they can't cross that day, and it's too late to go anywhere else, he takes her with him to the home of a friend, Mrs. Catriona (pronounced Catrina) Potts, who arrives dripping wet from hunting on the moor with a brace of rabbits, and a warm welcome for Torquil; and happy to have some female company because she, “hasn't heard any intelligent female nonsense for months.” Catriona is pretty much an image of the spirit of the islands. Life is difficult and they don't have much, but they would rather live the way they do than move elsewhere and give up the things that are really important to them.
Before they go to bed, Torquil tells Joan that if she counts the beams in her room, she will get her wish. He says it will only work on the first night in the house, and only if she believes. So Joan does count the beams and makes her wish in the form of a little prayer, “Please, Lord, don't let the wind drop, and let it blow away the fog.” And her prayer is answered, but in the way of so many fables, it isn't answered in the way she intended. Not only does the wind not drop, it strengthens into a gale.
For the next several days as the weather continues to be a problem, we are immersed in the culture of the Hebrides. We meet the people who live on the Isle of Mull and visit the ruins of an old castle, go to dinner at a grand house in Achnacroish and hear the old woman who lives there describe their wonderful balls, and attend a ceilidh celebrating the diamond wedding anniversary of a local couple, where Joan and Torquil dance away the night.
The outcome of the movie is very predictable. From almost the first moment of the movie, we have an idea of what is going to happen, and from the moment Torquil appears, we know who it is going to happen with. I'm not too worried about spoilers because I know that you know where this movie is going.
I Know Where I'm Going is a romance, but it is the best kind of romance. While there is a definite physical attraction between Joan and Torquil, there is more than that. There is an attraction to each other as people, and the relationship is full of respect and courtesy. What is more, it's not a romance that concerns two individuals isolated in their own little world, but it takes place in a community where that relationship has a place.
All the actors play their parts very well. Wendy Hiller gives a wonderful performance. I love her face. While she doesn't have a traditional kind of beauty, she has something more. I think it's character. Nancy Price, who plays Mrs. Crozier of Achnacroish, draws the viewer completely in with her description of the big local Highland dance. There's also an appearance by 12 year old Petula Clark.
While I was trying to find a way to watch the film without waiting for a DVD (It's available on DVD from Netflix, and streaming from Amazon), I found a half hour 1994 video called I Know Where I'm Going Revisited. It begins with Martin Scorsese saying that he had just seen this film for the first time and discovered a classic. It has a lot of interesting information, but the cinematography was designed by the demons in the eighth circle of hell. Some of it is pure torture to watch.
While the Isle of Mull is a real place, Kiloran is not, or at least, the real island isn't named Kiloran, but Colonsay. The characters in the movie never actually reach Kiloran, so it's more or less a prop in the film. From the above video I learned that many visitors still (at least in 1994) go to the Isle of Mull to visit the places in the film. The Castle of Moy which plays a part in the film is still standing, and unless things have changed in the last 22 years, you can still visit a call box along the road which Torquil uses to make reservations at the hotel where Joan will have a big room, and he will have a small one. The hotel is under new management but people still go there because they want to stay in hotel where Joan and Torquil stayed. It makes me want to get a passport.
—Janet Cupo has been commenting on this blog for about as long as it's existed, and has her own excellent blog at The Three Prayers.