Today: June 20, 2024

The Small Back Room

The shadow of Black Narcissus hangs heavy over Powell and Pressburger’s The Small Back Room.

The film reunites Kathleen Bryron and David Farrar, whose performances in Black Narcissus as the hysterical nun and uptight colonel, were so utterly mesmerising. Yet while Narcissus plays out against the back drop of the Himalayas, Small Black Room, takes place almost entirely in one dingy wartime back office, where Susan (Byron) and Sammy (Farrar) work.

Sammy is the archetypal boffin — crippled by self-doubt, and self-loathing due to his prosthetic foot. Susan is the saintly girlfriend whose frustrations with Sammy are not helped by the fact that they must keep their relationship secret.

The scenery may have changed, but Powell and Pressburger pour the same claustrophobic intensity that characterised Black Narcissus, into every word and every camera angle. There are moments, perhaps, when it all seems a bit too much, but then you get to the extraordinary committee room scene — and you know you’re in the hands of master filmmakers.

Small Black Room is a tense, clever tour de force, where the petty intrigue and self-aggrandisement of office politics stands in stark contrast to the sacrifices and heroism of those fighting the war.

We’re never overtly told how Sammy lost his foot and was relegated to the world of officialdom, but the final scenes give us clues, as well as a denouement full of warm fuzzies.

Small Black Room is part Noir, part wartime drama, part social critique — and the result is breathtaking.  A daring and innovative wartime movie whose moments of social critique make Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove seem downplayed.

StudioCanal’s new release of this classic is its first ever 4K restoration — and the result is appropriately spectacular, with plenty of extras for the film-curious to enjoy.

Special Features:

  • Restoring The Small Back Room.
  • A Tortured Hero: Kevin MacDonald on The Small Back Room.
  • Defusing the Archers: Professor Ian Christie on The Small Back Room.
  • Audio commentary featuring film scholar Charles Barr.
  • Interview with cinematographer Christopher Challis.
  • The Making of An Englishman documentary directed by Kevin MacDonald.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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