Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger direct Eric Portman, Sheila Sim and Sgt. John Sweet in this wartime mystery where a land girl, a G.I. and British sergeant stop off at a small town outside of Canterbury and try to figure out just who is pouring glue into the local women’s hair.
A fascinating experience that the above précis nowhere near covers. The amateur detective aspects are half hearted and relaxed. We spend just as much time with our three present day pilgrims as they adapt to their new, possibly temporary lives. Much discussion is given to their previous employment before war displaced them. I guess just as Chaucer defined each of his storytellers by their station in life, here The Archers unspool each character while their lives are in flux, their old existences left behind. Maybe the message is we must all adapt and embrace the positives of change, no matter how drastic and forced. We enter the fictional hamlet of Chillingbourne by steam train (the cinematic icon of time travel and progress) and leave the plot relatively unresolved in the cloisters. The setting is a timeless village, where horse and cart dominate and little boys dream of wars they thankfully are too young to take part in. Once we get to Canterbury itself in the final act, the historical interiors of Medieval cathedrals and Georgian tea rooms stand resolute but beside them are bombed out streets lined with the signage of new businesses that will rebuild the thoroughfare, the plots resemble a seeded vegetable patch that has yet to sprout. The acting is uniformly marvellous, even from real life yank trooper Sweet, and maybe the mystery we are solving is who these people truly are during this pastoral moment of stasis – their old lives and new aspirations, dreams and romances unfolding to us as they pursue the trivial but bizarre case of a nighttime menace. A beautiful time-out from the war and ever encroaching modernity.
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