Creating idealized worlds wasn’t the only thing Powell did. Two of his best known films, The Red Shoes (1948) and Peeping Tom (1960) are stories of tormented artists – respectively, a dancer and a photographer. Black Narcissus (1947) is an odd variation on the idealized world theme: in it, a group of nuns are sent to a mission in the Himalayas, a beautiful natural world vibrant with color and sensuality – and are essentially driven mad by it!
Age of Consent is of particular interest at the moment, because (according to Wikipedia) it marked the film debut of Dame Helen Mirren, currently being honored world-wide for her performance as The Queen. In Age of Consent, she plays the 18-year-old muse to an aging painter portrayed by the great James Mason. Co-produced by Mason and Powell, Age of Consent was conceived as the antithesis to Kubrick’s Lolita (1962) which also – not coincidentally – starred Mason. Where in Lolita the relationship between an older man and a young girl is a source of tragedy for everyone concerned, in Age of Consent, the relationship is mutually healing. It gives the aging painter new inspiration, a new lease on life, and brings him closer to nature. It introduces the young girl to the world of art, and helps her escape the repressive influence of her family.
Mirren is absolutely marvelous. Powell shot the film on an Australian island adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, and Mirren, assuming an Australian accent, effortlessly embodies the natural beauty of the environment, particularly in those scenes where she is swimming underwater, naked, surrounded by crystal blue.