A Canterbury Tale (U.K) (1944) (Drama)
(This is a extract from the film as the trailer is unavailable)
During the Second World an American soldier arrives in England. Disembarking from his train in a sleepy Kent village during late at night, he meets two other travellers, an English soldier, and a London ‘Land girl’. Leaving the station, the girl is attacked by a stranger who pours glue on her hair before running away. Over the next few days, the trio set out to find out who is notorious ‘Glue man’ who has been regularly attacking local girls.
This film is by the celebrated Powell and Pressburger partnership, responsible for some of the most unusual and artistic films ever to come out of British film studios (See September - Black Narcissus). The film was commissioned by the government, to help the war effort – specifically to get English audiences used to the idea of having American soldiers over here, and to introduce American Soldiers to the idea of England. The film updates Chaucer’s medieval ‘Canterbury Tales’ (about pilgrims) using contemporary characters and settings, but goes far beyond the brief, resulting in a very strange film. At first glance, the movie is a whimsical mystery drama – but deeper is nothing less than a love letter to an idea of ‘England and ‘Englishness’. In this (it has to be said, very ‘conservative’ and ‘establishment’) view of ‘England’, tradition, history, the past, the church, the countryside are all held up as values. Modern audiences are also likely to notice the way (as in most British films of the time) all the characters, speak in ‘Home counties/BBC’ accents, regardless of their background - The land girl, though supposedly working class, laughably, has a posh accent. Despite reflecting some questionable values and featuring a few excruciating accents, the film can be enjoyed on many levels regardless of ones politics. Among its many strengths are its unusual story and characters and strange mixture of drama, mystery, and romance. With its emphasis on landscape, pilgrimage, identity and its strands of romanticism and mysticism this is fascinating stuff. Based partly on Powell’s childhood experiences, the film, part drama, part documentary, makes great use of real wartime settings and people. The main characters, with the exception of the likable American Sergeant - a real life soldier, are all actors. Another key character in the story is Culpepper (a terrific Eric Portman), the local squire, and historian who has a intense passion for the past. Among the modern day pilgrims, the land girl is also especially sensitive to the landscape around her, and in a key scene (see above) - one of several mystical moments - while walking the ancient track way in the countryside, she hears the sounds of pilgrims of long ago.Particularly notable is the stunning black and white photography. There are great shots –, Canterbury after a bombing raid, the Cathedral itself or rural life in Kent in general. Particularly nostalgic are the scenes of the school children (like generations before and since) playing war with sticks. As such, besides telling a engaging if odd story, the movie is a fascinating window onto a society long gone – In this rigid class ridden world, Squires, Vicars, etc are pillars of society, while rural life and crafts still thrive. Even while the film was being made though, change was in the air – women were leaving the home in large numbers to do work alongside men and by end of the war (a years later), the public had voted by a massive majority for a socialist government.Seen today, A Canterbury tale is a strange but strangely engaging film. Enjoy.