Martin Scorsese guides this rich, personal journey through the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Made In England

Source: Berlinale

’Made In England: The Films Of Powell And Pressburger”

Dir. David Hinton. UK. 2024. 131mins.

Never mind the title. The key credit to this documentary about the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger — and their production company The Archers – is ‘presented by Martin Scorsese’, which he literally does, as a talking head. The opportunity to have Scorsese, who has actively championed the duo’s films for at least half a century, walk the viewer through their work, his history with it and, more surprisingly, describe exactly how he has used some of it in his own pictures, is not to be missed.

The kind of ‘blockbuster’ film about film that will play everywhere cinema is appreciated

This is the kind of ‘blockbuster’ film about film that will play everywhere cinema is appreciated, and it is both a illustrative look at and guide to Powell and Pressburger’s gorgeous, radical work for the expert, the enthusiast and the student alike.

Keen-eyed cineastes – once they’ve cleared the sequins from their eyes – will note that The Films Of Powell And Pressburger isn’t just about the films, and it’s a little more weighted towards Powell than Pressburger.  It may not be quite perfectly balanced – rehabilitating Powell’s solo work Peeping Tom, for example, while casting Pressburger slightly adrift – but assessed as Scorsese’s view of the film-makers he was at least partially responsible for rediscovering, Made In England more than passes muster.  With Mubi picking up key territories ahead of the film’s Berlinale premiere, an audience is guaranteed. A name change might even be considered to more accurately reflect what the film is.

Entire books have been written on the subject of The Red Shoes alone, for example, so to try fit the work of The Archers into a 131-minute documentary is a tough call. Scorsese, in a film ‘presented by’ himself and executive produced and driven by his editor and Powell’s widow Thelma Schoonmaker, has opted for the personal touch instead of a completest historian’s eye, judiciously highlighting the pair’s most seminal works together in all their glorious restorations. (The doc has missed a recent season of Powell & Pressburger films at Britain’s NFT, but perhaps the films can be persuaded back into revival to accompany a release of Made In England).

Answering the intimidating question of ‘where do you start with Powell And Pressburger?’, Scorsese begins with himself, as an asthmatic child forced to stay at home from school in his native New York and happening upon 1940’s The Thief Of Baghdad on TV; not an Archers film, but a troubled one on which Michael Powell worked for Alexander Korda. (Korda’s London Pictures will come into focus again during the documentary). 

Next is another personal jump which brings Scorsese to seek out Powell in the UK post-Mean Streets (1974), and a friendship which was to lead to Powell’s work as director in residence at American Zoetrope – Francis Ford Coppola was another Archers fan. And, finally, from there, back to Emeric Pressburger, the ‘genius of story and structure’ and to the newly-minted partnership’s third film together, 49th Parallel (1941). Perhaps Scorsese’s particular affinity with Powell is due to Powell’s credit as director within the ‘a film by Michael Powell And Emeric Pressburger’ tag, while Pressburger took writing credits and produced.

From there, Made In England is more or less linear, comprising biographical inserts of both film-makers – the Hungarian Jewish stateless exile in the UK Pressburger and the rather more patrician Brit Powell – alongside analysis of their finest work together and the occasional insert detailing how Scorsese took their cues. It seems like a far cry from the ‘English romanticism’ of The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943), I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) or A Matter Of Life Or Death (1946) to Raging Bull (1980) or The Age Of Innocence (1993) and Made In England is also fascinating in this respect; tracing, for example, The Red Shoes’ Boris Lermontov (played by Anton Walbrook) to Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976)

Certainly, Scorsese is a connoisseur of the expressionism, surrealism and sheer force of will which saw these ‘experimental film-makers working within the system’ go on to create such monumental works of art as The Red Shoes (1949) or The Tales Of Hoffman (1951).

Made In England is almost too much without being enough. Too much richness for one sitting: such redolent film history from wartime Britain and beyond, such determined experimentation with form – and that’s before Scorsese starts to mention his own work. But still never enough: stories of Powell & Pressburger, their rise, their diminishment, their rediscovery and what they left behind stretches the capability of the screen to encapsulate – much like their latter work itself. Technical credits rise to the occasion: the edit is rich, signposted by a lovely montage at the beginning, and apt. And the original, extraordinary score by Adrian Johnston, somehow manages to convey the partnership’s ethos and dreams.

Made In England has taken a long time to complete; perhaps commercial success through Mubi and Altitude, the latter of whom release in the UK and Ireland on May 10, will result in further instalments. Either way, cinema is, was, and will always be lucky - for Powell and Pressburger, the Archers, Korda, Rank - all of that, and now, this sweet celebration.

Production companies: Ten Thousand 86, Ice Cream Films

International sales: Altitude,

Producers: Matthew Wells, Nick Varley

Cinematography: Ronan Killeen 

Editing: Stuart Davidson, Margarida Cartaxo

Music: Adrian Johnston