It was 'love at first sight', according to Michael Powell. Throughout the 1930s, the young director had cut his teeth making 'quota quickies' — low-budget (and often bone-achingly dull) films churned out to make a quick buck — but before the decade was out, an encounter with a Hungarian screenwriter would set his career on a much more daring trajectory.
Emeric Pressburger met Michael Powell in 1939, when the former was hired to polish the script of The Spy In Black, Powell's directorial debut at London Films Productions. Despite their contrasting personalities, they forged an instant bond, triggering what Martin Scorcese would one day call "the longest period of subversive film-making in a major studio, ever."
London was central to Powell & Pressburger's film-making. Three years after meeting, they set up their own production company, The Archers, in an unassuming Marylebone flat. It was here that the pair worked on some of their most dream-like and fantastical films, including A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes (pictured above). Production took place primarily in London studios, and scenes for several of their films were filmed on location in the capital.
This map highlights the London locations that all Powell and Pressburger fans should know about — click on the red shoe icons (see what we did there) to find out more. Not got time for that? Below we've picked out a few of the most significant.
The Denham Film Studios
London Film Productions was based at The Denham Film Studios, so it's likely that this is where Powell and Pressburger first met. Several of their films, including The Life And Death of Colonel Blimp and A Matter of Life & Death were made here.
The former offices of The Archers, the production company started by Powell and Pressburger in 1942. Since 2014, a blue plaque honouring the filmmaking duo has stood here
Despite being set in a Himalayan monastery, the majority of Black Narcissus, Powell & Pressburger's beautiful, simmering 1947 psycho-drama was filmed at Pinewood (most of the mountainous backdrop you can see in the trailer below is actually matte paintings). Parts of The Red Shoes (1948), notably the stage and orchestra pit sequences, were filmed here.
The Royal Opera House
Powell & Pressburger's follow-up to Black Narcissus was The Red Shoes, a visually stunning and psychologically complex adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale. The majority of the film was shot at Pinewood and on-location in Monaco, but the very first scene takes place at Covent Garden's Royal Opera House. We also later see the now-defunct Mercury Theatre in Ladbroke Grove, where Vicky dances Swan Lake before her blossoming ballet career takes her overseas.
The Newman Arms
Look out for this Fitzrovia watering hole in the famous opening scene of Peeping Tom (1960), a solo project for Powell that sparked huge controversy on its release due to its violent subject matter and risque depiction of nudity. This is where the thriller's voyeuristic murderer stalks his first victim, who lives above the pub. Other notable Peeping Tom filming locations include Fitzrovia's Rathbone place and 8 Melbury Place, the former home of Michael Powell.
The Tower of London
Powell and Pressburger's final collaboration, The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972) was unlike anything else they'd made before. Decades after their postwar heyday, the pair created this surreal picture for the Children's Film Foundation, a body created to make cinema more kid-friendly. The film follows a schoolboy who — spoiler alert — turns yellow on his way back from a school trip to the Tower of London. See the absurd transformation, which includes a groovy lemon-hued tube carriage in the clip below.