Ever since she was an infant, Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) has known her own mind, where she is aiming for and what it is exactly that she wants. Now she is twenty-five, she has some news to break to her father, so she takes him to a nightclub restaurant and offers him dinner, then oh-so-casually but actually perfectly deliberately, informs him that she is to be married. In fact, she's leaving tomorrow for the Scottish islands to be wed to the head of a chemical industry, a very rich man who her shocked father points out is the same age that he is. She is not to be deterred, and the next day boards the train for Scotland - but she's in for a surprise...
There are a few Scottish films that while being made there, emphasised a certain magical quality about its landscape and the unexpected effect it can have on the unwary traveller. Indeed, I Know Where I'm Going! shares a few elements with that other definitive work in this field, Local Hero - there's even a telephone box that the main character tries to keep in contact with - but those pioneers of British filmmaking Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger got there first. Mixing footage from the actual locations, largely from around Mull, and studio based scenes which are expertly woven together, the atmosphere of somewhere almost supernaturally beguiling is the result.
Whether you would find the actual Scotland that enchanting is a moot point, but this is the movies and the fruitful Powell and Pressburger partnership tapped into a sense of the Scotland that may well exist if you look at it from certain angles, and one that has attracted many of this film's fans for decades (yes, that telephone box is really there). The heroine Joan is not heading out there to take in the sights and sounds of the area, she is simply going along there to get married to the bank balance of her dreams, and talking of dreams the film has a typically eccentric one near the beginning, complete with Tartan hills and steam engine top hats and marriage to the actual chemical plant.
From then on the tone appears to be less whimsical, but don't be fooled: this is swept up in the serious possibilities of the weather and landscape combining with the national character to cast a spell over Joan. She wants to reach the island of Kiloran where her fiancé is awaiting her arrival, but the theme of the plot is that the title (also a song trilled in a very high voice at occasional instances) is belied by the fact that Joan just thinks she knows what's best for her and actually she is mistaken. The man who is best suited to her is Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey at his most romantic), a local landowner who notices straight away that there is an attraction between them, not that she would admit it.
Therefore the ensuing story is all about the weather, that gale that chops up the sea between Mull and Kilmoran and makes any attempt to reach it by boat impossible until it dies down, keeping Joan stranded where she is until she can accept she's making a mistake. The battle between her mind and her heart is represented by the surroundings, but in truth Hiller is a little too cold and genteel to convince as a woman who has these raging passions lurking beneath her proper exterior. No matter, as Livesey comes across as the kind of chap who would very easily sweep her off her feet given half the chance, and a few pointed looks exchanged assist in bolstering the "will they-won't they?" relationship. Just as captivating is the local colour, from Pamela Brown's lady of the manor who can see what the two lead characters are having trouble admitting, to the whirlpool of legend that almost takes their lives. The luminous location photography does capture something magical in the place, and you can see why the film has such a lasting appeal. Music by Allan Gray.