‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ – love in a stormy paradise on Criterion Channel

Assured, headstrong Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) knows exactly what she wants and how to get it in I Know Where I’m Going! (1945).

Joan is the epitome of the material girl and she has spent her life seeking an advantageous marriage. But before she can reach the island of Killoran, where a rich fiancée, a lavish wedding, and a loveless marriage await, she’s stranded by fog in a rough, windswept Scottish village—in sight but out of reach of her destination. As a raging storm prevents her crossing, the quiet, modest, and penniless Scottish “Laird” Torquil (Roger Livesay) slowly wins her cheerfully mercenary heart and upsets her carefully arranged plans with messy emotions.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were the most romantic and the most visually exciting filmmakers in England for decade and this romantic drama is one of their most beloved films. It’s a handsome work full of vivid, offbeat characters living in a world that’s part tradition and part myth. Villagers work and celebrate with the simple spirit of common folk: “We’re not poor, we just haven’t any money,” Torquil admonishes Joan.

Powell brings his lively manner and bold visual invention to the creation of his beautiful but harsh paradise. The landscape is magnificent, not just beautiful but wild and primal and almost mythic, the physical embodiment of everything her carefully planned future is not. And her flight from Torquil culminates in the awesome spectacle of a massive whirlpool that could be the work of the “legend of Corryvreckan,” or the stormy embodiment of Joan’s hysterical heart.

Awash in mystic power of ancient castles and chanted legends, I Know Where I’m Going is one of the most romantic visions of Britain’s most magical director, and one of the most deeply, passionately romantic dramas of all time.

Pamela Brown is especially striking as an earthy villager always accompanied by a pack of bloodhounds and C. W. R. Knight is memorable as an eccentric falconer.

Black and white

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I Know Where I’m Going! (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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