I recently watched a very sweet British film that was made when people knew that WWII was going to come to a favorable end. I Know Where I’m Going! was produced, directed, and written by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell (their production company was called The Archers and they made 19 films together). It was filmed while they were waiting for Technicolor cameras to be available so they could film a different movie. Now that the war was coming to an end, they wanted to remind their audience of the things that really mattered and were worried about excess commercialism.
The result was a lovely film about unexpected love and individualism. It takes place in the Hebrides, islands off the west coast of Scotland, where myth and history is still close to the people who live there – they wear their kilts, dance their reels, play bagpipes, know their own folklore and history, sing their songs, are very connected to their home, and do it all with wonderful good humor.
The movie opens with a brief montage about Joan Webster, growing up – who knew exactly where she was going and how she was going to get there. Once a young woman, she announces to her father that she is going to marry Sir Robert Bellinger, who is the head of Consolidated Chemical Industries. Her father protests that she can’t marry a corporation and she says that she can. They plan to wed on a small island in the Hebrides called Kiloran. She travels the long way from London, taking a train, ferry, and taxi, only to get stranded by bad weather, just a short boat trip across from Kiloran, where her fiancé is waiting.
Also waiting to cross to Kiloran is Torquil MacNeil, who is on leave from the Navy. He is very friendly, and likes her a lot, but she has no intention of letting anything keep her from getting to her destination. When the bad weather continues, however, she spends more time with Torquil and he begins to gently, but definitely, try to win her. And although she knows she is falling in love with him, she is also determined to stick with her original plan and becomes desperate enough to avoid him that she attempts the crossing in the spite of the danger.
One thing that really makes this a gentle story is what a thoroughly nice guy Torquil is. He has no hang-ups about anything, is never critical of her (except when she puts herself and someone else in danger) or her rich fiancé. He is a kind man and when he makes a comment about how she is always the lady, she says she can’t change herself and he replies that he likes her as she is.
In a humorous aside on how identified he is with his corporation, we never actually meet the fiancé (though we hear his voice), so there are no overt caricatures of the pompous rich business man to distract. The real obstacle in the movie is Joan’s own willfulness. Torquil’s friend, Catriona, is just managing to keep her home running (much of her food was eaten when the British army stayed there for several years) and goes out to shoot rabbits for dinner. She does not dismiss that money would be useful to have, but tells Joan she keeps on because there are certain things more important.
According to Paul Byrne, in his excellent article that explores the movie, on Sense of Cinema, Michael Powell, who did the bulk of the writing, loved Scotland and it is obvious in the movie and is one of it’s main charms. Much of the filming is done in Scotland, with the rest being filmed in a London studio.
TCM also features a wonderful article about the making of the film. It talks about how James Mason turned down the role and how Roger Livesey was doing a play in London and was unable to do any filming in Scotland, so all his scenes were actually shot in London, though I never noticed when I was watching.