A Matter of Life and Death
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were responsible for some of our greatest movies, including The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp , A Canterbury Tale, and Black Narcissus. But surely their finest achievement was A Matter of Life and Death, released in 1947; produced, directed and written by the partnership.
Though their personal manifesto outlawed escapism their combined talents in that film produced a work of breathtaking imagination – the after-life (or is it?), time, justice, the value of life and love all explored with humour and a light touch. Throw into the mix that they had been prompted to make such a film by the British government to help cement post-war Anglo-American relations and the enormity of their project begins to be realised. Top that with the film’s beauty and you have a true classic.
David Niven gives one of his best performances, charming but thoughtful too, though Roger Livesey out-acts him, and Marius Goring steals his every scene as the fey executed French aristocrat sent to collect the seemingly doomed RAF pilot Niven, who nevertheless later wakes on a beach (actually Saunton Sands in Devon).
It is not possible to watch the film without rooting for Niven in his ‘trial’ – or is it his operation? Nor without wanting his romance with Kim Hunter to win out. But it is to the makers’ great credit that in spite of those feelings the viewer is kept in suspense.
Current top 10
3: The Railway Children
4: The Italian Job
5: Life of Brian
7: The Third Man
8: The 39 Steps
9: The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
10: Local Hero