Now painstakingly restored to its full Technicolor glory, Powell and Pressburger’s masterpiece is, among other things, probably the greatest study of ‘Englishness’ in the history of cinema.
General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey) is first found relaxing in faintly complacent and dufferish old age in London during World War Two, before we flash back to his days as a dashing young officer in 1890s Vienna. What follows is a wondrously rich, witty, sympathetic yet surprisingly critical portrait of a man and the subtle changes in his personality and values that occur with the passing of time; crucially, his fateful encounters with Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr) and Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook) teach him that little is fair in love and war.
Though Winston Churchill was famously tempted to suppress the film, it’s now acknowledged as one of the finest British movies ever made, as deep, dark, delicately nuanced and quietly devastating as an Elgar symphony, and the performances of the three leads are arguably their best. (Notes by Geoff Andrew.)