The Edge of the World (1937) starring John Laurie, Belle Chrystall, Eric Berry, Kitty Kirwan, Finlay Currie, Niall MacGinnis directed by Michael Powell Movie Review

The Edge of the World (1937)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Belle Chrystall and Niall MacGinnis in The Edge of the World (1937)

Ultima Thule

Whilst even non movie geeks know that Alfred Hitchcock was one of Britain's greatest movie makers, the name Michael Powell is not as well recognized by non movie fans yet his contribution to British cinema is remarkable. What is also remarkable is Powell's first proper movie "The Edge of the World", I say proper because prior to writing and directing this 81 minute Scottish tale he had been involved in 24 smaller, quickie movies. "The Edge of the World" is remarkable not only because for a movie 75 years old it looks new but also that he manages to get across a true slice of life on an isolated Scottish island and combines it with a believable little drama which has a theme which even now feels current.

The remote Scottish Island of Hirta has lived life the same way for centuries but with the rest of the world evolving their way of life is becoming threatened. It leads to some of the next generation wanting to move on and leave Hirta whilst others cling on to tradition. It is a tradition which causes problems for young lovers Andrew Gray (Niall MacGinnis) and Ruth Manson (Belle Chrystall) as a climbing competition between Andrew and Ruth's brother Robbie (Eric Berry) leads to tragedy and Ruth's father Peter (John Laurie) forbidding Ruth and Andrew from being together. But Peter, one of the Island's elder's who is clinging on to tradition has to face the truth and make a tough decision when he learns that Ruth is carrying Andrew's child.

Finlay Currie and John Laurie in The Edge of the World (1937)

The first thing which grabs you about "The Edge of the World" is that for a movie which is over 75 years old it looks nothing like other movies from the thirties. I am not just talking about the fact that the image quality looks sharp but Powell's choice of shots because it feels minimal and clean yet also powerful. A shot of the mainland mountains poking through from the clouds in the distance is stunning as is watching Ruth on a cliff top looking in to the distance as the sunsets. To say it is visually stunning seems wrong yet it is breathtaking.

But that is just part of what makes Powell's "The Edge of the World" such a marvellous movie and the authentic storyline is a huge part of why it is so good. Michael Powell actually got the idea for the movie when he read in a newspaper the story of the evacuation of St. Kilda and felt it would make a marvellous movie. He was right and what we get is a look at the struggle on a small island as they try desperately to hold on to centuries of tradition hoping that they can last out. It leads to conflict as there are those who can see that there is no hope arguing with those who refuse to give up. All of which is portrayed with such realism, from scenes of people doing things the old way, the Sunday call to church to the leaders meeting on a rock to discuss the Island's future. But more importantly this theme of a changing world is still relevant and so it doesn't feel like just some historic piece.

Then on top of this Powell gives us a bit of manufactured drama but drama which is inkeeping with the heart of the movie as we have the romance between Ruth and Andrew. It's in keeping because it is the split between wanting to leave the island and those wanting to stay which causes Andrew and Ruth's brother to compete in the cliff climb and when that ends in tragedy it also ends up with Ruth being fore bayed from seeing him. And that nicely evolves leading to change in characters and for Ruth's father to face a huge decision when he learns that Ruth is carrying Andrew's child.

What this all boils down to is that "The Edge of the World" is a marvellous old movie which not only doesn't feel anywhere near as old as it is but also does a fabulous job of delivering a sense of authenticity mixed with drama.