Decisions, decisions, decisions. We all have to make them and they can be tricky, especially when a decision needs to be made and your head tells you one way you should go and your heart tells you another way. Such a dilemma! That is exactly the dilemma our heroine faces in the lovely romance film from Britain, 1945’s I Know Where I’m Going!
The movie opens with a montage of a little toddler girl, Joan Webster, propelling herself around a living room in her family home. Then we see Joan at age a 5, writing a bossy letter to Father Christmas informing him she wants silk stockings for Christmas! Next, we see 12 year old Joan with her stockings on and rushing across the street to get a ride home from the milkman instead of milling around the schoolyard with her classmates. Then we see Joan at 18, leaving work and getting her date to take her to a fancy restaurant instead of the movies. At the end of this montage we see Joan’s legs, stylishly dressed in silk stockings and heels, entering a hotel lobby/restaurant. Joan Webster(played by Wendy Hiller) is the main focus of the movie’s plot. Joan is a determined personality, she always “knows where she is going” and she so far has lived her life by that motto. She graduated from school and has become an independent career woman. The career has taken her into the stratosphere of business and before long she finds herself engaged to the owner of Consolidated Chemical Industries, Sir Robert Bellinger, one of the wealthiest men in England. At the hotel Joan meets with her dad and over dinner informs him that she will be marrying Sir Robert the next day on the Isle of Kiloran, one of the Hebrides islands off the coast of Scotland. Joan’s father is surprised and does comment that Sir Robert is the same age as himself, but that doesn’t seem to bother Joan. Before she departs for the train station and her train to Scotland, she reminds her dad not to worry because she knows where she is going!
Next is a montage of dreams Joan has about her marriage to Consolidated Chemical Industries, interspersed with strange scenes of traveling to Scotland by train. After Joan has traveled as far as she can travel in Scotland by train, she transfers to a bus and on that crowded bus she notices a handsome Naval Officer, Torquil MacNeil(Roger Livesey). Joan and Officer MacNeil both exit the bus near the dock area of the village of Mull. Joan asks a nearby boat captain if she can get a ride to Kiloran which one can see out in the distance from Mull’s docks. The captain, Ruairidh Mhor(played by Finlay Curie), tells Joan that the weather is too fierce and no boats will be traveling to Kiloran until the next day, if the weather is better. Joan is disappointed at this hindrance in her journey to the altar, and she reluctantly agrees to Officer MacNeil’s plan: that they stay overnight at his good friend Catriona’s(played by Pamela Brown) home. At Catriona’s home, Joan is introduced to Colonel Barnstaple(C.W.R. Knight) a friend of Catriona’s, who is also staying at her home. As Catriona and the Colonel fix dinner, Joan is delighted to notice a map of Kiloran on the wall and Officer MacNeil is able to tell Joan a lot of information about the island. Later that night, as Joan is turning in, she has a short encounter with Officer MacNeil, who congratulates her on her upcoming wedding when she tells him about it, and he reminds Joan to count the beams on her ceiling and then pray a prayer so her wish can come true. Joan prays for good weather so she can sail to Kiloran in the morning. In the morning, as fast as she can, Joan readies herself for a trip to the docks and finds out that despite a sunny day, the gales are too strong for any boats to go out. With Officer MacNeil’s help, they make arrangements to stay at a local hotel and decide to walk to the nearest coastal radio station so Joan can place a call to Kiloran and talk to Sir Robert. On the walk to the radio site, Joan and Officer MacNeil pass Moy Castle. Joan has been reading up on the Hebrides and the area around them and knows that there is a curse on Moy Castle, a curse for the Lairds of Kiloran. (Laird is Scottish for Lord and bestowed on the landowners of the Isle of Kiloran.) Joan is eager to explore the castle, but Officer MacNeil refuses to go inside. After Joan has explored Moy Castle, she emerges and begins to tease Officer MacNeil for being “chicken” and not wanting to explore and it is then that Officer MacNeil reveals that he is the current Laird of Kiloran and that despite what Joan may think, he has a healthy respect for this curse and he won’t step foot into that castle!
As the weather continues to misbehave, Joan and Officer MacNeil keep getting thrown together: she is invited to a tea held by some distant friends in the area and guess who is also a guest? Officer MacNeil. The Laird is invited to attend the 60th Wedding Anniversary of a local couple, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, and he invites Joan to attend with him. We can tell that Officer MacNeil is growing fond of Joan, but being that she is engaged to another man, he doesn’t want to do anything to disrupt that part of Joan’s life. At the anniversary party, a certain song is played, “The Nut-Brown Maid “. Officer MacNeil explains the song to Joan, as it is one of his favorites, and when he gets to the lyric that the Nut-Brown Maid is the maid for him, he gives Joan such an intense look that she realizes that the Laird has fallen in love with her. It is at this point that a son of the Campbell’s(John Laurie) thanks the Laird for coming and encourages him and his guest to dance, which Joan reluctantly agrees to. After the party is over, Joan practically runs to her hotel room to not to have to be near Officer MacNeil. Joan realizes that she has a growing attraction and interest in Officer MacNeil, but this will destroy her plan of marrying Sir Robert. What a dilemma she finds herself in!
In her desperation to be on Kiloran and get her marriage to wealthy Sir Robert over with, Joan sneakily asks a younger sailor, Kenny(Murdo Morrison) to take her and that she will pay him handsomely and then he will have the funds to marry his sweetheart, Bridie(Margot Fitzsimmons). Kenny agrees but right before he and Joan can take off in the motorboat, Officer MacNeil jumps aboard. He has found out Joan’s hairbrained plan, as the weather is really bad, and he scolds her for using her access to money to bribe Kenny into taking her. Joan informs him quite angrily that she doesn’t care, she has to get to Kiloran and that causes Officer MacNeil to insist on motoring the boat. The trip proves treacherous, the waves are high, a storm is upon them, and the engine gets flooded. Added to this danger is the fact that they are being drawn ever closer to the Corryvreckan whirlpool which could mean death for all three of them. Officer MacNeil manages to get the motorboat engine repaired in the nick of time and they sail back to the docks of Mull. Joan stomps off to her hotel room, refusing to speak to Officer MacNeil.
The next day dawns with sunny skies, low breezes, and the bay very calm. This is it, the day to sail to Kiloran and finally marry Sir Robert. Joan is preparing to walk to the docks, her luggage has already been put onto the boat. She meets Officer MacNeil one last time outdoors, on the path that leads to the docks. He graciously wishes her well in her future life, and she thanks him. Then Joan asks Officer MacNeil for one favor before she departs. He asks what is it and she asks him to kiss her. He gives her quite a kiss, and then she tells him good-bye. Officer MacNeil is off on his walk and happens to pass by Moy Castle. He decides that to be afraid of a centuries old curse is silly and he decides to explore the castle. As we see him in the castle, a voice of a woman intones the curse of the Lairds of Kiloran. Due to a long ago Laird catching his wife in an adulterous affair with another man, he had the wife and her lover bound together with chains and placed in the water-filled dungeon of the castle with only a stone for them to stand upon when the tide would rise. Eventually, their strength waning, the lovers fell into the water and drowned. The Laird and all of the male Laird descendants were cursed by the wife right before her death, that if a Laird walked into Moy Castle, he would be chained to a woman for the rest of his days. When Officer MacNeil gets to the battlements of the castle, he hears bagpipers in the distance and then sees them approaching. They are playing his favorite song, ” The Nut-Brown Maid” and marching right behind them is Joan! She waves to him and runs to the castle and he rushes down to the entrance to greet her with an embrace. Such a happy ending!
I happened to stumble upon this film 5 years ago when it aired on Turner Classic Movies. It left me in awe, not only the beautiful cinematographer’s shots of Scotland, but the strong plot, the wonderful acting, it all left me wondering why can’t Hollywood make as many good movies like this one anymore? Even famed American director Martin Scorsese has declared this film one of his favorites! I Know Where I’m Going! was written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the creative British movie magic makers at The Archers, their production company. The movie was a large box office hit in Great Britain. It is available to rent via Netflix, via Amazon’s instant rent it section or for purchase, and it does appear on Turner Classic Movies from time to time, and someone has put parts of it up on Youtube. Don’t miss this wonderful romance film! It is a movie that I don’t mind watching over and over again.