Red Ensign (film)

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Red Ensign
Red Ensign Video Cover
Directed by Michael Powell
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Jerome Jackson
L. du Garde Peach
Michael Powell
Starring Leslie Banks
Carol Goodner
Frank Vosper
Alfred Drayton
Donald Calthrop
Cinematography Leslie Rowson
Edited by Geoffrey Barkas
Distributed by Gaumont British Picture Corporation Ltd
Release dates
  • June 1934 (1934-06) (UK)
Running time
66 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £12,000 (estimated)

Red Ensign (1934) is an early low-budget "quota quickie"[1] by noted British filmmaker Michael Powell.


David Barr is the manager and chief designer of a British shipyard who comes up with a radical new design for ships, at a time when the industry as a whole is in recession. He struggles to find financial backing from his company, banks or investors, and is driven to desperate ends to try to complete the ship. As well as technical and financial difficulties Barr also has to struggle against the machinations of rival shipbuilders and infiltrating militants.


Powell's 12th film in four years, and perhaps his most memorable one in that period. "It was the first time that Michael Powell himself realised that there was something special about a Michael Powell film, something going on on the screen, or behind the screen, which you couldn't put your finger on, something intriguing, aloof, but in the long run memorable."[2]


The character of David Barr is seen as an early precursor of Powell's own alter-ego in Michael Powell films such as Eric Portman's Colpeper in A Canterbury Tale (1944) and Roger Livesey's Dr Reeves in A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Indeed the whole film is seen as a parallel with the struggles of a young bold film director, and a plea for a strong British film industry. The strong crusading tone of the film prefigures Powell's wartime propaganda films such as 49th Parallel and Contraband. A minor character is pointedly called 'Grierson' after the celebrated documentary maker John Grierson. This character is described as 'the best rivetter in the yard' who 'taught me [Barr] everything I know'. This scene is immediately followed with one of Barr firing a 'militant' worker intent on provoking industrial strife in the yard.



The film has been released on Region 1 DVD by MPI along with The Phantom Light (1934) and The Upturned Glass (1947).

The film has been released on Region 2 DVD by Opening in the "Les films de ma vie" series. The DVD has fixed French subtitles for the original English soundtrack.


  1. ^ Dave Kehr. "Early British Cinema". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Powell, Michael (1986). A Life in Movies. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-59945-X. 

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