Sunday, 31 January 2016

'A Canterbury Tale': in Memory of Sheila Sim

by Sue Palmer 

The actress, Sheila Sim, died on January 19th, 2016, aged 93. One of her most fondly-remembered roles was in Michael Powell's wartime film, 'A Canterbury Tale' (1944)

Sheila Sim in A Canterbury Tale
As it was to the three unlikely pilgrims (played by Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and John Sweet) travelling by train to Canterbury with their mysterious companion, towards the end of the 1944 propaganda film A Canterbury Tale, it is the sight of the Cathedral with the statuesque Bell Harry tower rising from the low-lying Stour valley, which still gives the ‘wow effect’. It is the same whichever way you approach Canterbury.

Shots of Canterbury, towards the end of the film come from original footage of the severe bomb damage the city suffered in devastating Luftwaffe raids in May and June 1942.

There is huge devastation, craters and piles of rubble.  Only the Cathedral, extraordinarily, rises above it like a beacon, pulling people towards it.  No matter, in reality, that the priceless, famed, medieval stained glass windows had already been removed to safety, the great perpendicular windows boarded up, and the organ and other treasures dismantled and hidden.

Why are the mismatched three characters, a land girl, a British army sergeant and an American serviceman, drawn to broken Canterbury?

They are ordinary people and part of a war-weary world. Having muddled through to find the perpetrator of an extraordinarily eccentric crime – the ‘glue man’ of the local Kentish countryside -- they arrive like wondrous pilgrims, each finding a blessing, as Chaucer’s medieval pilgrims expected, at the shrine of St Thomas a Becket.

There is something about the Cathedral, some mystery, that still pulls people from every walk of life towards it.

You can view the whole film here:

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