Shot entirely in the wild, windswept Outer Hebrides island of Foula, "The Edge of the World" is a beautiful, thrilling and profoundly moving masterpiece from cinema great Michael Powell (The Red Shoes, I Know Where I'm Going), who also appears in the film as a yacht owner. Two families, the Mansons and the Grays, live on a remote island off the coast of Scotland and are united by friendship and romance between young Ruth and Andrew. Believing there is no future on the island, Ruth's brother, Bobbie, plans to leave in spite of Andrew's objections. To settle their argument, the two men follow an ancient local tradition and race to the top of the island's 1,220-foot cliffs to see whose opinion should prevail. The outcome shatters the island's peace and splits the two clans apart in this critical and popular hit at the New York Film Festival, which was Powell's first important film and remained dear to his heart.
Michael Powell broke with a decade of B movies with this personal project shot on the North Sea island of Foula, a magnificent, primal landscape of high, rocky inland plains and sheer cliffs jutting out of the sea like a dare. He renamed the island Hirta for this fictional story (based on the real-life evacuation of the island of St. Kilda) of an isolated community's traditional way of life slowly dying as the young men are drawn to the modern cities of the mainland. John Laurie and Finlay Currie play the two family patriarchs who struggle over the future of the island community, and Powell himself appears as the yachtsman in a framing sequence. The romantic melodrama at the heart of the tale turns on a breathtaking race up the sheer cliffs and the grudge it sparks when one of the climbers falls to his death.
The Edge of the World is more stately and still than Powell's cinematically playful and stylistically vibrant later films like The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. The proud, hard residents of the island are constantly framed against the dramatic sky, the craggy mountains, or the rolling meadows with a dire seriousness. Yet there's a poetry to his images, which are never less than gorgeous, and Powell directs with a sense of tension, urgency, and desperation that pulls at the easy pace of this harsh lifestyle. This edition also features the lovely 1941 short An Airman's Letter to His Mother (narrated by John Gielgud) and the Powells' 1978 documentary Return to the Edge of the World, a 22-minute remembrance organized around a reunion on the island of Foula. --Sean Axmaker
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