Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

A Canterbury Tale (1944)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

A Canterbury Tale (1944, UK)

In Michael Powell's and Emeric Pressburger's drama, an eccentric and lyrical UK film set not in the 14th century, but in wartime Britain in 1943:

  • the opening voice-over quote from the prologue of Geoffrey Chaucer's original manuscript: "When that April with his showers sweet, the drought of March hath pierced to the root and bathed every vein in such liqueur from which virtue engendered is the flower. When Zephyrus seek with his swete breath inspired hath in every holt and heath the tender croppes, and the young sun hath in the Ram his half cours y-ronne. And smale foweles maken melody that slepen all the night with open eye - so priketh them nature in their corages - then longen folk to go on pilgrimages and palmers for to seken stranger strands to distant shrines known in sundry lands. And especially from every shire's end of England to Canterbury they wend, the holy blissful martyr for to seek that them hath helpen when that they were weak"
Transitional Opening - 600 Year Jump-Cut
  • the astonishing match-cut camera shot (an influence or inspiration for Stanley Kubrick's similar match-cut in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) ?) when an ape tossed a bone into the air and it became an orbiting spacecraft) - in this instance, a nobleman-falconer (James Sadler) removed the hood from a prized bird, and released it into the wide-open sky; it immediately soared into the air - and the time frame shifted 600 years into the future, with the bird transformed into a RAF Spitfire plane, and the falconer now a British soldier in WWII wearing a tin hat - (the narrator spoke in voice-over: "600 years have passed. What would they see, Dan Chaucer and his goodly company today? The hills and valleys are the same. Gone are the forests since the enclosures came. Hedgerows have sprung. The land is under plow and orchards bloom with blossom on the bough. Sussex and Kent are like a garden fair but sheep still graze upon the ridges there. The Pilgrims' Way still winds above the weald through wood and break and many a fertile field. But though so little's changed since Chaucer's day, another kind of pilgrim walks the way")
  • this was a contemporary tale of three pilgrims on a modern-day pilgrimage, enroute to Canterbury; they arrived on a train (during a blackout) in the small Kent town of Chillingbourne in S. England:
    (1) Alison Smith (Sheila Sim) a London department store salesgirl about to become a "Land Girl" in the Women's Land Army
    (2) US Army Sgt. Bob Johnson (John Sweet), a GI serviceman on leave
    (3) Peter Gibbs (Dennis Price), a drafted Englishman and cynical former cinema-organist who gave up his music school dreams
  • the scene of a strange nocturnal "Glue Man" who poured sticky glue into Alison's hair - she was his 11th victim; as they investigated the incident, they became suspicious of the eccentric local magistrate, Thomas Colpeper JP (Eric Portman), who was a farmer whom Alison was to begin working with
  • the scene of Colpeper's confession that he was the Glue Man - with good intentions - to assure that local girls wouldn't go out at night with GIs and forsake their husbands and boyfriends, and to hopefully guarantee that they would learn about the area's history, subsequently, the group made a study of the history of the area and tales of The Pilgrim's Way
  • the scene of Colpeper's lantern-slide lecture, when he told the audience, in a mesmerizing monologue, that they must take their own pilgrimage to learn about their past: "Let me remind you that as much as 600 years ago, doctors and lawyers and clerks and merchants were passing through here on the old road which we call the Pilgrims' Way...These ancient pilgrims came to Canterbury to ask for a blessing or to do penance. You, I hope, are on your way to secure blessings for the future.... Well, there are more ways than one of getting close to your ancestors. Follow the old road, and as you walk, think of them and of the old England. They climbed Chillingbourne Hill, just as you. They sweated and paused for breath just as you did today. And when you see the bluebells in the spring and the wild thyme, and the broom and the heather, you're only seeing what their eyes saw. You ford the same rivers. The same birds are singing. When you lie flat on your back and rest, and watch the clouds sailing, as I often do, you're so close to those other people, that you can hear the thrumming of the hoofs of their horses, and the sound of the wheels on the road, and their laughter and talk, and the music of the instruments they carried. And when I turn the bend in the road, where they too saw the towers of Canterbury, I feel I've only to turn my head, to see them on the road behind me"
  • by the film's conclusion, once the three pilgrims had reached Canterbury (in a modern-day pilgrimage) about a ten minute journey away by train, each of them miraculously received a blessing in Canterbury and were changed forever:
    - both Alison and Bob, who feared that their missing fiancee/girlfriend was dead, located their loved ones
    - and Peter Gibbs played a Bach piece on the organ in Canterbury's mystical cathedral, during a processional
  • in the final shot looking through the flower design of the cathedral's tower, the bells pealed after the assembled parishioners in the Canterbury Cathedral sang the old hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers"


Alison Reporting a Glue Attack in her Hair

Colpeper's Lantern-Slide Lecture

Gibbs Playing the Organ in Canterbury Cathedral

The Grandeur of the Cathedral

Looking Out of the Cathedral's High Bell Tower


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z