Considered by many to be British director Michael Powell's first true major motion picture, "The Edge of the World" is a 1937 film set on the small Shetland island of Foula, north of Scotland. The island's few inhabitants (six main families) descend back to ancient times and Nordic roots before the new world had been "discovered", and standing atop its towering sheer cliffs and looking west was felt by many to be standing on the edge of the world. Powell's fascination with heights (and falls) may have started here, as his longtime fans will instantly see some parallels to the scenery and situations from his later Black Narcissus (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray], and even sporadic touches in "The Red Shoes".
"Edge" is a fictitious story rooted in historical fact about the plight small island communities faced as their populations shrank and their young people were seduced away by greener pastures. It was inspired by the real life story of the island of St. Kilda, when its last 36 citizens were "evacuated", leaving their historical home and the fruits of their blood, sweat, and tears behind.
In "Edge", another community is facing the same problem. The weather is inclement, the work is hard, the routine is dull. But even for those who are stubborn enough to want to stay out of respect for ancestoral duty and tradition, or who don't want to make things worse for those left behind, another reality is hitting home. Few babies are being born, the crops are poor, and the peat is running low. The price they get for their wool is decreasing, while at the same time modern trawlers from the mainland come out and fish their waters, forcing them to go farther out.
The decision whether to stay or go is played out between two young men, each taking opposite sides and arguing for the hearts and souls of their neighbors. In an interesting take, each of their fathers respectively disagree with them, creating tension not just between the boyhood friends but also their families.
The father who is the leader of the island, and who has the strongest desire to maintain the status quo, is faced not just by a traiterous deserter of a son but also a twin sister, who is torn between the differing worldviews of her dad, her brother, and a lover. As one of the younger women on the island (and capable of having a child), who she ultimately could lend her voice to would have power. Whether she ever finds her voice is another matter.
It would not be a spoiler to say that the movie starts from the very beginning with a man standing in a windswept ghost town of rock and stone. The entire rest of the film is flashback, so while you know from the getgo what decision gets made, how they ultimately reach it, and its consequences, are the focus of the film and is fairly compelling. The battle lines are drawn, with the fate of everything at stake except for the island itself. Despite the chaos that sometimes goes on around it, the island stands tall and defiant, beautifully shot but entirely indifferent to the waves continually crashing upon it or the people scrambling on its cliffs.
I have only seen this bluray edition, so I can't comment on how much of an improvement it is over previous versions. I can say this, it is highly watchable and in my opinion true HD, with some nice shots that are fairly remarkable considering the age from when they were taken and the harsh environment the film faced. Conditions on set were dangerous, collar bones were broken, and camera men were fired for not keeping up. So in the end you can see that, there are times when you can tell the real grandeur just could not be captured, but it was not for lack of effort. It is also probably the reason that the next time Powell wanted to do a high altitude movie, the aforementioned Black Narcissus, that he did it on a studio lot employing optical illusions rather than filming on location.
The performances are sufficient but not great, most likely the result of 1937 acting standards. Probably the best performance is turned in by the lead father, played by John Laurie. While some is clumsy and heavy handed, it is evened out by a cast that is eclectic and interesting, including some of the real life populance of the island. Ultimately you end up caring for the characters, who seem believable, so everything works.
I was hesitant to get the DVD as it is listed as an "all region" import. In the end it played fine on my region 1 Panasonic barebones Blu-Ray Panasonic DMP-BD75 Ultra-Fast Booting Blu-ray Disc Player. The extra features were nice, including a 25 minute documentary of sorts that highlighted Powell and some crewmembers going back many years after the fact. Many of the original people had passed away at the time, but it was nice to see the island both in color and with the benefit of some sweeping aerial shots that were not possible when the movie was first filmed. Audio commentary by Powell's widow, with Daniel Day-Lewis reading excerpts from the book "200,000 Feet on Foula". Also includes a very informative 25 page booklet.