It was wonderful news to see that the BFI have released this worthy film in blu-ray format. It is a truly fascinating film written and directed by Michael Powell. The story is based around the real island of St Kilda which was abandoned by the inhabitants in the early 1930s. St Kilda is an extremely remote island out in the Atlantic West of the Hebrides. Its remoteness lends it a romantic mystique. But for those inhabitants at that time life on the edge of the world was extremely tough. Famine was a reality. If storms kept them from their larder the sea they often went hungry. Life was often as short as it was hard. The great director Flaherty had already explored this life in his landmark documentary "Man of Aran". Powell had actually watched Flaherty wrestle with the raw material for 3 years for this film. Well that is the brief background.
If you watch this film I would thoroughly recommend you try to get hold of a copy of Powell's magnificent book "Edge of the World, The Making of a film", published by Faber and Faber Ltd in 1990. Originally published as "200,000 feet on Foula", which referred to the amount of film used on the island, it was first published in 1938. I usually find books on the cinema to be tedious, but this one is not. The book is all about Powell's preparation for and the making of "Edge of the World". It is certainly one of the best books ever written about the film industry. It is an epic story in itself and is an insight into the great man. The film was shot on location on the Isle of Foula in the Shetlands, some way north of the Scottish mainland, and almost as difficult to get to as St Kilda itself. Foula is remote even amongst the lonely Shetland group. It has the distinct feel of Ultima Thule, which is from the ancient Greek and refers to the place at the end of the world. As you can imagine the logistics of filming here in the thirties must have seemed daunting. Which indeed it proved to be. But the location is everything for this film. It lends it an impressive sweep and air of authenticity. Foula has dramatic cliffs and seascapes just as St Kilda does. It also has atrocious changeable weather conditions which made filming hard. Powell went to similar lenths as Kurosawa did to bring in "Dersu Uzala", battling heroically with the elements for the sake of art. Does he pull it off? A resounding yes on every level! Pause to reflect that this film was made way back in 1938. Powell shows his great vision early in an illustrious career.
The casting was perfect. The great Scottish actors Hugh Lawrie and Finlay Currie being the best known amongst a modest cast of actors and actresses. The locals of Foula were also used. Nothing bigger happened at Foula before or since. Powell shows how the locals lived with surprising accurracy. The gathering of sea birds eggs from vertiginous cliff faces being the most memorable. Oh, and look out for Powell's brief Hitchcock like appearance at the start as the yachtsman!
But there is more to this film than historical accuracy. Watch Powell's brilliant fade outs and double exposures which enhance this film. Thank goodness for the National Film Archives wonderful and deserving restoration. It also contains the very welcome little documentary "Return to Foula", which unlike so many extras is actually very worthwhile. I heartily recommend you immerse yourself in this lovely film. If you have a true heart for the joy of cinema you will love this. This is definitely a film for the connoisseur, and deserving of a comfortable five stars. Some of the blu-ray images, of the sea scapes especially, are gin clear, doing full justice to the natural wonders of stunningly beautiful Foula, and belying the age of this lovely little film.