POWELL & PRESSBURGER
Plaque erected in 2014 by English Heritage at Dorset House, Gloucester Place, Marylebone, London, NW1 5AG, City of Westminster
Film Director, Author & Screenwriter
MICHAEL POWELL 1905-1990 EMERIC PRESSBURGER 1902-1988 Film-Makers worked here in Flat 120
Dorset House is on Gloucester Place, to the north of the Marylebone Road, opposite Dorset Close.
Filmmakers Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell met while working on Alexander Korda's film, 'The Spy in Black' (1939). Powell recalled their first encounter as being "a case of love at first sight" and in the summer of 1941, they formed The Archers production company. They had equal standing within the company, sharing the film credits for production, writing and directing - although Powell (the son of a Kentish hop farmer) was principally responsible for direction and Hungarian-born Pressburger for writing.
The formation of The Archers was encouraged by J. Arthur Rank, with whose company, Independent Producers, Powell and Pressburger would work for the next six years. Rank was valued by his film-makers for the creative and financial freedom he allowed them, and the films The Archers made with him are amongst the most imaginative and ambitious of their age. Several had their genesis in the Second World War, from the stirring propaganda of '49th Parallel' (1941), to the lyrical Kentish 'A Canterbury Tale' (1944) and the spectacular afterlife fantasy of 'A Matter of Life and Death' (1946).
Their bittersweet, imaginative productions broke with the realistic tradition of British cinema, and were sometimes controversial; Churchill tried to block 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' (1943) for its supposedly unpatriotic critique of the British Army, but in 'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945), the war is scarcely audible from the highlands of Scotland. The Archers' final films with Rank were exotic and daring in subject matter, technique, and design: 'Black Narcissus' (1947) explored sexuality in a Himalayan nunnery, whilst 'The Red Shoes' (1948) was a dazzlingly innovative cinematic tour-de-force.
The Blue Plaque to Powell and Pressburger is at Dorset House on Gloucester Place in Marylebone, London. It was from Flat 120 that Powell and Pressburger oversaw the production of many of their greatest films, including 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' (1943), 'A Matter of Life and Death' (1946), 'Black Narcissus' (1947) and 'The Red Shoes' (1948).
Powell and Pressburger moved into Dorset House at the beginning of 1942 and remained there until 1947, shortly before they parted company with Independent Producers - Rank having become exasperated by the cost overrun of 'The Red Shoes'. The décor of the office was in keeping with the war and post-war years of austerity - there were camp beds in case of air-raid warnings and Powell remembered that they never bothered to furnish the flat properly or to hang pictures and posters.
Dorset House, on the corner of Gloucester Place and Marylebone Road, is a huge Grade II-listed modernist service block built in 1934-35 by T. P. Bennett and Son, with Joseph Emberton as consultant. The block has a two-storey basement, with ten storeys above, and is predominantly of brick, with curved stone balconies, green-painted iron balustrades and Crittall windows. To either side of the entrance are carved stone reliefs by Eric Gill.
At the unveiling of the plaque in 2014, blue plaque panel member Sir Christopher Frayling said:
The Powell and Pressburger partnership was one of the most important in the history of British cinema, responsible for some of our most cherished films. Our blue plaque celebrates both their art and the building where they conjured their cinematic magic. We hope it will surprise the many fans who may chance upon it - and encourage others to seek out the great films made by the Archers.
Thelma Schoonmaker, film editor and widow of Michael Powell, said:
When Michael first brought me to London, it gave him enormous pleasure to point out the English Heritage blue plaques as we drove through the city - 'Here the ballerina Taglioni once lived...there Karl Marx worked on "Das Kapital"...here Arthur Conan Doyle crafted his Sherlock Holmes stories...'. So to have a plaque on the place where his great partnership with Emeric Pressburger flourished during World War II would have thrilled him. On behalf of his two sons, Kevin and Columba, and myself we thank English Heritage for honouring the place from which emerged what Martin Scorsese has called with envy: 'The longest period of subversive filmmaking in a major studio ever'.
Kevin Macdonald, film director and grandson of Emeric Pressburger, said on behalf of his family:
As a Hungarian who ended up more English than the English, Emeric Pressburger would have been delighted to see his name alongside his friend and collaborator Michael Powell's on such a lovely London Street. He would have seen it as one more sign of acceptance from the country (and city) that he loved. For our part we are delighted that Emeric and Michael's unique contribution to the culture of Britain is being acknowledged so splendidly.