At the heart of I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), co-directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is a dilemma between fakery and authenticity. Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) is a determined woman who believes that she has chosen the right path in life. Her plan is to marry a rich businessman and see that she has all she materially needs in life. The film follows her journey up to the Hebrides where her wedding is due to take place but from the start nothing seems to go her way. First, she loses her itinerary, and then the weather is so bad that she cannot make the crossing across to the island of Kiloran for the ceremony. Powell and Pressburger were masters of creating fantastical and mystical stories. In this film, they conjure up a sense of adverse forces that work against the supposed desires of Joan. I say ‘supposed’, because after each obstacle Joan loses her drive to pursue her strategic marriage a little bit more. It seems that all Joan needs is a bit of time, some woolly jumpers and a good dose of Scottish down-to-earth straight talking and she will see sense and be true to herself. Down with airs and graces and up with following your heart!
What has always stayed with me about the films of these directors is that they manage to put together this argument against the fake and the untrue with a range of cinematic mechanisms and fabrications. One story, warmly remembered by fans, is about the male lead, Roger Livesey, who plays Torquil MacNeil. His character is the dashing down on his luck laird of Kiloran. He has had to lease the island to Sir Robert Bellinger, Joan’s fiancé. Joan is a bit disgruntled at this, as she expects Belinger to be landed gentry, but it is Torquil who seems more in touch with the genus loci of the island. We see him situated in the rolling hills of Mull where the film was shot, or at the foot of an ancient castle: he is a man defined by this Scottish location. True to their belief in the theatricality of cinema, Powell and Pressburger created his character on screen with some crafty tricks. While they wanted Roger Livesey as the lead for the film, he was also booked to appear in a West End play at the same time as the shoot in Scotland. What we see on screen is a combination of close-ups of Livesey filmed in studio and wide over-the-shoulder shots where a be-kilted body double took his place. The effect is a convincing portrayal and a cheeky twist to any simple reading of the film. Powell and Pressburger create a world where folklore and natural phenomena are extolled, where whirlpools and gusts of wind seem to have agency. Yet, they do this with models, sleight of hand and faith in their audience to suspend disbelief.