WHO are they?

British filmmaking, screenwriting and producing pair Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger that made 15 feature films together in a 15-year period during the forties and the fifties. The duo parted ways after this incredibly fruitful collaboration and went on to direct films individually, with comparatively less success. They won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1951 for The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).

WHAT are their films about?

Themes

Some of the most famous of the Archers’ films were made during the Second World War and their stories are set during the same period. These works deal with relatively timeless themes such as the tragic workings of Fate and the all-consuming power of Art. However, given the historical circumstances, they also serve more immediate political ends such as denouncing Nazism, glorifying traditional English culture, portraying British-American relations in a positive light and championing the cause of the Allied forces.

Style

In contrast to the gritty and downbeat realism of contemporary film movements elsewhere in Europe, the cinema of the Archers is deliberately ‘artificial’. These films are Melodramas in the truest sense of the term — music + drama — and attempt to arrive at genuine emotional truths through overt artifice of construction. They are characterised by heightened emotional intensity, an unreal and vibrant colour palette, intricate orchestral score, expressionist acting style, grand studio sets, elaborate camera movements and thematically expressive lighting schemes.

WHY are they of interest?

One of the Archers’ most significant contributions is the way they adapted operas, plays and ballets to screen, without undermining the power of the art form they are dealing with. They made sure that their work was strongly personal and independent of arbitrary, external demands. The list of filmmakers influenced by their cinema includes illustrious names such as Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson and George A Romero.

WHERE to discover them?

Expansive in scope and rich in grand gestures, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), details the life of a soldier through the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars. The Archers’ lyrical, moving second film chronicles over four decades of personal and national history using a number of innovative narrative devices and is, at its heart, a portrait of a man forever at war and his journey towards his own obsolescence.