Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s films defined British cinema in the 1940s and 1950s, which were both artistically and commercially successful. In 1946 and at the height of their powers, Powell and Pressburger wrote and directed A Matter of Life and Death, one of the finest British films ever made.

For strong openings, A Matter of Life and Death has surely got it pegged. In 1945, the heroic Peter’s (a never-more-dashing David Niven) fatally wounded aircraft careers homeward across the English channel, and his crew have either bailed or expired. There’s no hope for him, so he radios operator June (Kim Hunter) to pass on a heartbreaking message to his mother. But with poetry effortlessly tripping off his tongue, he tells her. “I love you June – I love life and I’m leaving you”. In the hands of any other director the whole scenario would feel hokey and inauthentic, yet among the saturated technicolour visuals there is more sincere humanity in Peter’s desperate final moments that most films can lay claim to in their totality.

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