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A Canterbury Tale [DVD]

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A Canterbury Tale [DVD] + I Know Where I'm Going [DVD] [1945] + The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Special Restoration Edition) [DVD] [1943]
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Product details

  • Actors: Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, John Sweet, Esmond Knight
  • Directors: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
  • Writers: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
  • Producers: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, Jock Laurence
  • Format: PAL
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: U
  • Studio: ITV Studios Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 19 Jun. 2007
  • Run Time: 119 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004CZVF
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,858 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)


Product Description

A Canterbury Tale is a compelling drama set amidst the backdrop of World War Two Britain. Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger ("A Matter of Life and Death"; "The Red Shoes"), it has been acknowledged as one of the duo's finest films. Their reworking of Chaucer's epic fourteenth century tale--largely set in Kent--revolves around an American army sergeant, a British soldier and a land girl who, before making a modern-day pilgrimage to Canterbury, solve the bizarre mystery of a man who pours glue over the hair of village girls at night.


One of the most beloved of all British films, A Canterbury Tale marks yet another occasion to celebrate the Criterion Collection's growing DVD legacy of Powell and Pressburger classics. Originally conceived as good-natured propaganda to support the British-American alliance of World War II, the film became something truly special in the hands of the Archers (a.k.a. writer/director/producers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger). Taking its literary cues from Chaucer's titular classic, it begins with a prologue that harkens back to Chaucer's time before match-cutting to present-day August of 1943, with the night-time arrival of U.S. Army Sgt. Bob Johnson (played with folksy charm by John Sweet, an actual American GI) on the shadowy platform of Canterbury station in the magically rural county of Kent (where Powell was born and raised). He is soon joined by two fellow train passengers: Alison Smith (Sheila Sim), a brashly independent recruit in the British Woman's Land Army; and Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price), a sergeant in the royal Army, and before long they're tracking clues to find "the glue man", a mysterious figure who's been pouring "the sticky stuff" on unsuspecting women as the midnight hour approaches. Their investigation leads to Thomas Colpeper (Eric Portman), a village squire whose local slide-shows celebrate life in an idyllic rural England threatened by wartime change. As Graham Fuller writes in an observant mini-essay that accompanies this DVD, is this a whodunit? Historical documentary? War film? Rustic comedy? It's all these and so much more: As photographed in glorious black and white by Erwin Hiller (faithfully preserved by one of Criterion's finest high-definition digital transfers), A Canterbury Tale has an elusive, magical quality that encompasses its trio of Canterbury "pilgrims" and translates into a an elusive, spiritually uplifting sense of elation that has made it an all-time favorite among film lovers around the world. --Jeff Shannon

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 70 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 Sept. 2002
Format: VHS Tape
I had the extreme luck of watching this film for the first time at a special showing in Canterbury itself. I found it compelling and wonderful. It is British in the same sense as 'Brief Encounter'. Both of them capture the nuances of midcentury England. This film focuses on the beauty of the dwindling countryside, evoking wonderfully a way of life that was disappearing even then. The director, Michael Powell, came from Canterbury, and it shows. This film is clearly a labour of love. It even understands the magic of Canterbury cathedral, with each of the main characters setting out on a pilgrimage of their own, to have a boon granted or do penance. Even though it is in black and white, it is a film filled with sunshine. I recommend it to anyone who feels nostalgia for the past, even a past they never experienced.
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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Edward Barry on 19 Dec. 2002
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is the most effective account of what it is like to be English within the encroaching tide of American popular culture.
That it was made when it was makes it truly prophetic.
It's blissfully hard to categorise. It is sentimental, it does have comedy but there is an underlying menace - a malevolent incongruity that seems to hallmark director Powell's best work. The whole notion of a midnight prowler deliberately pasting glue into women's hair is a good example of this kind of alternate reality. There is a specific scene where a many hands are vigorously washing the hair which seems disturbingly loaded with sadism.
Yet the subject (and the reason for buying) is history - what in the middle of WWII can be realistically retained. What has to give way? So we see the cocky GI find an affinity with an English carpenter, a cynical cinema pianist collaborating with a cathedral organist and a middle aged magistrate judged and sentenced by one of his own victims.
It's beautifully photographed, particularly the scenes of rural life yet contains a strangely powerful message for this generation, faced with the cultural narrowing of globalisation of the arts.
Not a Multiplex fave...but you should see it for just this reason.
Recommended unreservedly.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By sam galliers on 12 July 2002
Format: DVD
This is one of my all time favourite movies, it has a wonderful nostalgic feel for England before the 2nd World War, and an eerie timeless quality as you imagine all the lives played out through the ages on the Pilgrims Way which leads into Canterbury. The theme of the Glue Man who pours glue on girls' hair is just a part of it, the real theme is peoples lives then and how they lived through the war. As I was brought up 7 miles from Canterbury it is also an interesting historical document as you get to see what it was like right after the bombing - something you cannot imagine until you see just how much of the city was left as piles of rubble. A classic bit of British life circa 1930s if you like old b&w "brief encounter" type movies you will love this one. The photography is lovely and shows English countryside in its heyday. The plot is about three young people whose lives are changed after an eventful weekend in the East Kent countryside and arrive in Canterbury on the day a local regiment embarks for the Second Front. This is intercut with the pilgrims travelling to Canterbury in the Middle Ages. Trust me, it works! This film is just a lovely modest little treasure everyone should see - I highly recommend "A Matter of Life and Death" by Michael Powell too, which stars David Niven and is, again, set in the Second World War.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Paul T Horgan VINE VOICE on 24 Sept. 2006
Format: DVD
This film was released to mixed reviews, and yet it is undoubtedly a classic. Why?

The explanation is rather simple. This film, in an evocative and romantic way, displays the England that people were fighting for. People did not fully understand this at the time. They felt they were fighting 'against' Nazi domination, not actually 'for' anything. They had seen the onset of war as a suspension of most pleasurable acivities and restrictions on what they could buy, where they could work and where they could travel. The country had suffered severely from Luftwaffe bombing and then the Vs 1&2. The last casualty-causing V2 landed in England barely 30 days before Hitler shot himself, and this was at a time when the ground fighting was in Germany itself.

But what were they fighting for? Initially it was to liberate Poland from German occupation. Only belatedly did people realise that this was a fight between Democracy and Totalitarianism, a fight that did not fully come to an end until the Berlin Wall collapsed.

This film in its easy manner showed to a wartime crowd what Peace and Freedom meant. The Glue Man is a sideshow against the main characters pilgrimage to find their fulfilment, their bit of peace in war-torn England.

The central message? When Shelia Sims walls down the bomb-damaged streets of Canterbury, a victim of the Baedekker raids and sees the people carrying on, proud, unafraid the message is clear. We are the English, We are Bloody but Unbowed, This is Our Land, We will Survive. It was a subtle, spiritual, emotional message that the contemporary cinema audience simply could not understand in the world of sudden death, blackouts and shortages. But it is a message that resonates with us and helps us understand their bravery and tolerance when it seemed that civilisation was on the brink.

See the film and then visit Canterbury yourself.
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