Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger (2024)

Directed by David Hinton

Martin Scorsese presents this very personal and insightful new feature-length documentary about British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

This would be a strong bonus feature if it were included on a Criterion disk of the Archer's films but despite being a huge fan of these films, it comes up a little short as a standalone, feature-length documentary. In particular, given that Made in England is presented as the humble personal thoughts of Martin Scorcese, it regrettably endorses the notion that you need a Famous Director to grant permission to watch and love lesser-known films from any culture not of your own. However admirable it is to renew interest in The Archer's work, this is of course somewhat unfortunate. Indeed, the documentary seems unaware that it is inherently contradictory on this point: Scorcese spends considerable running time recounting his now well-worn and possibly rose-tinted memories of watching these films repeatedly when he was young — precisely a time when the documentary claims they were essentially unknown, thought of as 'lesser' works and/or mutilated by the censors. The idea of requiring the imprimatur from some cultural gatekeeper also seems to be at significant variance with Scorcese's highly creditable work on the World Cinema Project as well.

There is, in addition, the complete absence of additional viewpoints, let alone dissenting voices. Where are Sally Potter and Joanna Hogg talking about the influence on their works, for example, let alone Thelma Schoonmaker? And I'd love to have seen Mahesh Rao as a talking head as well, particularly on the complicated racial and Empire-inflected dynamics of these films. Admittedly, there is little new for die-hard Powell and Pressburger fans to learn anew, and the pleasure is mostly in seeing them up on a big screen. I was vibrating in my seat just hearing the first two sentences of Wahlbrook's speech from 49th Parallel (1941), for instance. But it would have been better if a film called Made in England said something about the film's (or Scorcese's) shifting idea of 'Englishness'. Indeed, despite what he claims, I'm sure Scorcese jolly well understands what people mean when they say "English romanticism", and the documentary itself does not seem to engage with the endlessly fascinating politics of the movies under discussion, except when it pertains to the United States, recognisable names such as Winston Churchill or semi-technical 'political' concerns such as wartime propaganda offices.

The recent book by Nathalie Morris and Claire Smith, Romantic Imaginations, seems to be much better in almost all regards, not only by including other voices but also through due credit to the huge team that worked around The Archers themselves. The photographs are fantastic also. Still, Made in England passes the ultimate test of making you want to watch these films all over again: Scorcese is especially perceptive on yearning love and the audacious editing decisions in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), the "flat champagne" of Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955) and his allusion to Robert Bresson in his interpretation of the gondola scene from The Tales of Hoffman (1951) — it is, indeed, pure cinema, and could not work in any other artform.