Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger review – Martin Scorsese front and centre in a wonderful chronicle of influential duo

Scorsese’s rhapsodical memories match the romance of the subjects’ transportive storytelling and indelible images

Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger
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Director: David Hinton
Cert: None
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Martin Scorsese, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Running Time: 2 hrs 11 mins

As a boy, Martin Scorsese had severe asthma and could not play sports or take part in physical activities. He found solace – and a lifelong passion – in cinema. At home, watching TV at a time when Hollywood studios would not allow their films to be broadcast, he became fascinated by British cinema.

The Thief of Baghdad, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s spectacular 1940 fantasy, was an early favourite. The film-making duo, collectively known as the Archers, would not only capture the young Scorsese’s imagination; they would also have a profound influence on his work. That transaction worked both ways.

Speaking to this newspaper last November, Powell’s widow, Thelma Schoonmaker, who is also Scorsese’s long-time editor, recalled how the Killers of the Flower Moon director rescued her husband, who was banished from the industry after his 1960 solo project Peeping Tom, from poverty and obscurity.

Scorsese takes centre stage in David Hinton’s wonderful chronicle of the influential film-makers. The fast-talking verve of A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies (1995) and My Voyage to Italy (1999) has given way to something quieter and more contemplative as Scorsese relates how Powell, who trained under the Irish silent-film director Rex Ingram, teamed up with Pressburger, a Hungarian emigrant, to create some of cinema’s most remarkable flights of fancy.


As a primer, Made in England breaks down the division of labour between the pair (who were equally billed as writers, producers and directors) and the alchemy that conjured such paradoxes as the quintessentially English and quietly international The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, a wartime picture featuring Anton Walbrook’s dashing German officer.

For Scorsese completists, there’s a detailed account of how films such as The Red Shoes affected the composition, viewpoint and camera movement in Scorsese’s work.

Scorsese’s rhapsodical memories match the romance of Powell and Pressburger’s transportive storytelling and indelible images; his account of first seeing the rhododendrons in Black Narcissus on a nitrate print is as magical as the image. Our only caveat? Disappointed to hear Scorsese describe Ingram as British.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic