It is set in a fictitious village near Canterbury during WW2 and the plot - if you can believe it - centres around a shadowy figure who prowls the streets at night, looking for young women so that he can throw pots of glue into their hair (Sticky Stuff). It's a lot more innocent than it sounds, I promise you, but from this brief synopsis of the plot, you will understand that it has to be one of the most surreal films to have come out of a British studio. The culprit is sought by a group of young conscripted servicemen (and woman), one of whom is a genuine American G.I. who was roped into playing himself whilst stationed in war-time Britain, and a gloriously bad job he makes of it too. I would not have had it any other way.
The photography is stunning (Powell's usual cameraman was Jack Cardiff, who sadly died a few months ago), and the sets were made by the legendary Alfred Junge - he who made the absolutely miraculous, glass and paint backdrops of the Himalayas for one of Powell's other films, 'Black Narcissus'. When you remember that the 'Himalayas' were recreated in an Elstree parking lot, using nothing more substantial than a 5 foot high, pile of salt, then you realise what a feat this was.
If you have not seen 'A Canturybury Tale', then you must - at some point - have seen 'The Red Shoes', another wonderful 'Archers' production from P & P. Other Archers productions include, 'The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp', 'A Matter of Life and Death', 'I know Where I'm Going' and 'The Edge of the World', but 'A Canterbury Tale' has to be my personal favourite, with 'I know Where I'm Going' a close second.
I discovered recently that it is also Martin Scorsese's favourite film, and this astounded me, considering the sort of films that Scorcese is famous for. Evidently, he helped Powell through his old age, after he had lost all his money and fallen into obscurity, and I love Scorcese for that.
It is a dangerous thing to do - recommending films or books to other people, but if you see a copy of any one of these Powell films on DVD, I think you will not regret watching them, if you have not already seen them. They are pure magic, to use another old cliché.