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Edge of the World, The (1937)


Main image of Edge of the World, The (1937)
35mm, black and white, 74 mins
DirectorMichael Powell
Production CompanyJoe Rock Productions
StoryMichael Powell
CameraErnest Palmer
 Skeets Kelly
 Monty Berman

Cast: John Laurie (Peter Manson); Belle Chrystall (Ruth Manson); Finlay Currie (James Gray); Niall Macginnis (Andrew Gray); Eric Berry (Robbie Manson)

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The inhabitants of the remote island of Hirta in the Hebrides are split on whether or not to abandon their homes.

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Having made two dozen low budget pot-boilers over the preceding five years, Michael Powell finally got the chance to make his first really personal film with the ambitious drama The Edge of the World (1937).

Powell based his script on the true story of the evacuation of thirty-six people from St. Kilda, an island ten miles off the west coast of Scotland, on 29 August 1930. The film was made over four months during the summer of 1936 on the island of Foula, in the Shetland Isles. Permission was denied to film on St. Kilda, which is in the Hebrides, and where they actually speak Gaelic, while on Foula they speak Norse. Powell was adamant that local people be in the film, and that it all be shot on location (which, except for some pick-up shots back at the studio, turned out to be the case). Powell himself told the story of the filming in his first book, 200,000 Feet on Foula.

The mixture of documentary and drama, location footage and studio filming is occasionally awkward, as is the mixture of professional and non-professional actors. However, despite its simple and rather melodramatic story, The Edge of the World still stands up today, particularly for its stunning location cinematography, as well as the film's opening scenes in which we see various ghostly apparitions on the now deserted island. Also notable is John Laurie's brooding, yet sympathetic performance as Peter Manson, the film's most complex role, one which is shown to be inextricably linked with the fate of the island itself. Powell's script and direction also give the first real indication of the love of nature and his mystical use of landscape to shape and comment upon human stories, which would be developed further in his celebrated collaborations with Emeric Pressburger.

In 1978 Powell and members of the cast and crew revisited Foula for a BBC documentary, Return to the Edge of the World.

Sergio Angelini

*This film is available on BFI DVD.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Andrew's memories (3:25)
2. To the top! (3:00)
3. Birth celebration (3:41)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945)
End of the River, The (1947)
Shetland Experience, The (1977)
St. Kilda - Britain's Loneliest Isle (1923/28)
St. Kilda, Its People and Birds (1908)
Return to the Edge of the World (1978)
Currie, Finlay (1878-1968)
Laurie, John (1897-1980)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Sewell, Vernon (1903-2001)
Early Michael Powell
Powell and Landscape