Happy Birthday Michael Powell 30th September 1905 - 19th February 1990
Oh Micky, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Let me not count the ways I’m not sure I like you, as it’s your birthday, and that would be rude. A benign(ish) dictator, a fantastic (in its true sense) storyteller, an innovative and daring director, a force of will and nature. What a curious mix of a man. Read ‘A Life in Movies’ with a shovelful of salt and revel in all of it.
I’d like to thank Micky for a lot of things. For his championing of certain actors (Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook, Esmond Knight, Conrad Veidt), his determination to give them great roles, and his loyalty to them (Esmond in ‘The Silver Fleet’, Frank Reeves being written for Roger, Theo and Boris for Anton). Were it not for Micky, I wouldn’t know and love Roger as I do. And imagine Anton’s English career had The Archers not snaffled him and written him his greatest roles. Imagine Niv, worried after six years of war service that he would no longer be employable, getting the gem that is Peter Carter.
In all the wonder and excitement of Micky’s films - especially during the halcyon days of The Archers - the colour, the modernity, the heightened emotion, the fantastical and the beautiful, what throbs through all of them like a heartbeat is their humanity. These are films that understand the human heart with all its foibles; the nature of desire and how it can be beautiful, can be truthful, can be the pinnacle of existence, but also how it can twist and warp and destroy. But always there is understanding. Peeping Tom is disturbing precisely because of this: there’s an empathy in it that implicates us all, director and viewers alike.
It’s impossible to think of Micky without Emeric, also without the marvellous production team that is The Archers, all of them; Georges Périnal, Erwin Hillier, Jack Cardiff, Alfred Junge, Hein Heckroth, Allan Gray; this is his genius - collecting the best people around him and working towards the finest piece of art possible. But Emeric especially, tempering and encouraging, bringing his Hungarian sensibility to his chosen England, to his chosen Englishman. These are the men who put (arguably) their two greatest speeches about humanity into the mouth of a german character (Anton Walbrook, both times, in 49th Parallel and Blimp) during the height of World War Two, and not for shock value, but because they understood the universality of human nature. They made the most English (or rather, British - Micky loved the Scottish islands as much as the Kent countryside) of films, because they were not parochial. My life, and the life of many, would be a much poorer place without these films.
In short, thank you Micky, for all of it. Except Mel Ferrer. But I know that wasn’t your fault.