Biography of Michael Powell

Michael Powell was born on September 30, 1905 in England. Following his graduation from Dulwich College, Powell began his career as a banker at the National Provincial Bank in 1922--but rapidly, he determined that banking was not for him, and pivoted towards the film industry in 1925.

Through a friend of his father, Powell forged a connection to the director Rex Ingram at the Victorine Studios in Nice, where he began work at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole: his early responsibilities included runnint errands, making coffee, and cleaning the studio. He eventually progressed to photography, title painting, and small acting roles. Powell worked on numerous films throughout the 1920s, including Alfred Hitchcock's Champagne (1928).

Not long after, Powell began his own career as a director. Beginning in 1931, he partnered with Jerry Jackson, an American producer, to make hour-long films designed to satisfy British cinemas' screening quotas, sometimes called "quota quickies." That same year, Powell received his first credit as a director for Two Crowded Hours. He continued working prolifically throughout the 1930s, including working as a contract director for Alexandra Korda. Through his work for Korda, Powell met Emeric Pressburger, with whom he would co-create The Red Shoes. From that point forward, Powell's personal career as a director was subordinated to his collaboration with Pressburger: the two took equal credit for each of their productions, jointly credited as the writers, directors, and producers of each.

By 1960, Powell resumed some solo work, directing Peeping Tom, a controversial thriller. The film was poorly received, and badly hurt Powell's reputation in the British film industry. Following this blight, he found it difficult to get work. Although some of his later films would eventually acquire a cult following in the later decades of the 20th century, Powell's reputation never fully recovered within his lifetime. In 1990, he died of cancer.

Study Guides on Works by Michael Powell

In the 1940s and 50s, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as "The Archers," wrote, directed, and produced a litany of films that are now considered classics. Contrary to the typical Hollywood studio arrangement at the time,...