Emeric Pressburger

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Emeric Pressburger
Pressburger in Paris
Imre József Pressburger

(1902-12-05)5 December 1902
Miskolc, Austria-Hungary
(present-day Hungary)
Died5 February 1988(1988-02-05) (aged 85)
Saxtead, England
Occupation(s)Screenwriter, producer, director and production house co-founder with Michael Powell
(m. 19381941)

Wendy Orme
(m. 19471971)
Relatives Andrew MacDonald (grandson)
Kevin Macdonald (grandson)
English Heritage Blue Plaque
Dorset House, Gloucester Place, NW1 5AG P+P BluePlaque.jpg
English Heritage Blue Plaque
Dorset House, Gloucester Place, NW1 5AG

Emeric Pressburger (born Imre József Pressburger; 5 December 1902 5 February 1988) was a Hungarian-British screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is best known for his series of film collaborations with Michael Powell, in a collaboration partnership known as the Archers, and produced a series of films, including 49th Parallel (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death (US: Stairway to Heaven, 1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). He has been played on screen by Alec Westwood in the award-winning short film Òran na h-Eala (2022) which explores Moira Shearer's life-changing decision to appear in The Red Shoes. [1] [2]


Early years

Imre József Pressburger was born in Miskolc, in the Kingdom of Hungary, of Jewish heritage. [3] He was the only son (he had one elder half-sister from his father's previous marriage) of Kálmán Pressburger, estate manager, and his second wife, Kätherina (née Wichs). He attended a boarding-school in Temesvár, where he was a good pupil, excelling at mathematics, literature and music. He then studied mathematics and engineering at the Universities of Prague and Stuttgart before his father's death forced him to abandon his studies. [4]

Film career

Berlin and Paris

Pressburger began a career as a journalist. After working in Hungary and Weimar Republic-era Germany he turned to screenwriting in the late 1920s, working for UFA in Berlin (having moved there in 1926). The rise of the Nazis forced him to flee to Paris, where he again worked as screenwriter, and then to London. He later said, "[the] worst things that happened to me were the political consequences of events beyond my control ... the best things were exactly the same."

Pressburger's early films were mainly made in Germany and France where he worked at the UFA Studios in the Dramaturgie department (script selection, approval and editing) and as a scriptwriter in his own right. In the 1930s, many European films were produced in multiple-language versions. Some of the films made in Germany survive with French intertitles and vice versa.

In 1933, after the Nazis came to power, UFA's head sacked the company's remaining Jewish employees with Pressburger being told his contract would not be renewed. He left his Berlin apartment, "leaving the key in the door so that the Stormtroopers wouldn't have to break the door down" and left for Paris. Late in 1935, Pressburger decided that he would do better in England.

Emigrated to the UK

Pressburger arrived in Britain in 1935 as a stateless person; once he decided to settle, he changed his name to Emeric in 1938. In England he found a small community of Hungarian film-makers who had fled the Nazis, including Alexander Korda, owner of London Films, who employed him as a screenwriter. Asked by Korda to improve the script for The Spy in Black (1939), he met the film's director, Michael Powell. Their partnership would produce some of the finest British films of the next decade. [5] However, Pressburger still did some projects on his own.

Pressburger was much more than simply "Michael Powell's screenwriter" as some have categorised him. The films they made together in this period were mainly original stories by Pressburger, who also did most of the work of a producer for the team. Pressburger was also more involved in the editing process than Powell, and, as a musician, Pressburger was also involved in the choice of music for their films.

Later work

Powell and Pressburger began to go their separate ways after the mid-1950s. They remained close friends but wanted to explore different things, having done about as much as they could together. Two of his later films were made under the pseudonym "Richard Imrie".

Two novels by Pressburger were published. The first Killing a Mouse on a Sunday (1961), is set in the period immediately following the Spanish Civil War. It received favourable reviews and was soon translated into a dozen languages. The Glass Pearls (1966), reissued in 2015 and again in 2022 by Faber, gained an especially negative assessment from The Times Literary Supplement, its only contemporary review. [6]

Subsequently it has been highly praised. Lucy Scholes in The Paris Review in 2019 called it "a truly remarkable work. It deserves to be recognized both for its own virtuosity, and as an important addition to the genre of Holocaust literature." [7]

Personal life

On 24 June 1938, Pressburger married Ági Donáth, the daughter of Andor Donáth, a general merchant, but they divorced in 1941. The union was childless. He remarried, on 29 March 1947, to Wendy Orme, and they had a daughter, Angela, and another child who died as a baby in 1948; but this marriage also ended in divorce in Reno, Nevada in 1953 and in Britain in 1971. His daughter Angela's two sons both became successful film-makers: Andrew Macdonald as a producer on films such as Trainspotting (1996), and Kevin Macdonald as an Oscar-winning director. Kevin has written a biography of his grandfather, and a documentary about his life, The Making of an Englishman (1995).

Pressburger became a British citizen in 1946. He was made a Fellow of BAFTA in 1981, and a Fellow of the BFI in 1983.

Pressburger was a diffident and private person who, at times, particularly later on in his life, could be hypersensitive and prone to bouts of melancholia. He loved French cuisine, enjoyed music, and possessed a great sense of humour. In appearance he was short, wore glasses, and had a sagacious, bird-like facial expression. He was a keen supporter of Arsenal F.C., a passion he developed soon after arriving in Britain. From 1970 he lived in Aspall, Suffolk [8] and he died in a nursing home in nearby Saxtead on 5 February 1988, due to the complications of old age and pneumonia. [9] He is interred in the cemetery of Our Lady of Grace Church, Aspall. [8] His is the only grave in that Church of England graveyard with a Star of David.


UFA period
British period


Awards, nominations and honours


Related Research Articles

<i>Black Narcissus</i> 1947 British psychological drama film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Black Narcissus is a 1947 British psychological drama film written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and starring Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, and Flora Robson, and featuring Esmond Knight, Jean Simmons, and Kathleen Byron. The title refers to the Caron perfume Narcisse Noir.

<i>The Red Shoes</i> (1948 film) 1948 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

The Red Shoes is a 1948 British drama film written, directed, and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It follows Victoria Page, a ballerina who joins the world-renowned Ballet Lermontov, owned and operated by Boris Lermontov, who tests her dedication to the ballet by making her choose between her career and her romance with composer Julian Craster.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Powell</span> English film director

Michael Latham Powell was an English filmmaker, celebrated for his partnership with Emeric Pressburger. Through their production company The Archers, they together wrote, produced and directed a series of classic British films, notably The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). His controversial 1960 film Peeping Tom, today considered a classic, and a contender as the first "slasher", was so vilified on first release that his career was seriously damaged.

<i>A Matter of Life and Death</i> (film) 1946 film by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell

A Matter of Life and Death is a 1946 British fantasy-romance film set in England during World War II.

<i>The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp</i> 1943 film by Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a 1943 British romantic drama war film written, produced and directed by the British film making team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It stars Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr and Anton Walbrook. The title derives from the satirical Colonel Blimp comic strip by David Low, but the story itself is original. Some regard the film as the greatest British movie ever made and it is renowned for its sophistication and directorial brilliance as well as for its script, the performances of its large cast and for its pioneering Technicolor cinematography. Among its distinguished company of actors, particular praise has been reserved for Livesey, Walbrook, and Kerr.

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Kevin Macdonald is a Scottish director. His films include One Day in September (1999), a documentary about the 1972 murder of 11 Israeli athletes, which won him the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the climbing documentary Touching the Void (2003), the drama The Last King of Scotland (2006), the political thriller State of Play (2009), the Bob Marley documentary Marley (2012), the post-apocalyptic drama How I Live Now (2013), the thriller Black Sea (2014), the Whitney Houston documentary Whitney (2018), and the legal drama film The Mauritanian (2021).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Powell and Pressburger</span> British filmmaking duo

The British film-making partnership of Michael Powell (1905–1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902–1988)—together often known as The Archers, the name of their production company—made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 1950s. Their collaborations—24 films between 1939 and 1972—were mainly derived from original stories by Pressburger with the script written by both Pressburger and Powell. Powell did most of the directing while Pressburger did most of the work of the producer and also assisted with the editing, especially the way the music was used. Unusually, the pair shared a writer-director-producer credit for most of their films. The best-known of these are The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).

<i>Contraband</i> (1940 film) 1940 film by Michael Powell

Contraband (1940) is a wartime spy film by the British director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, which reunited stars Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson after their earlier appearance in The Spy in Black the previous year. On this occasion, Veidt plays a hero, something he did not do very often, and there is also an early (uncredited) performance by Leo Genn.

<i>49th Parallel</i> (film) 1941 film by Michael Powell

49th Parallel is a 1941 British and Canadian war drama film. It was the third film made by the British filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It was released in the United States as The Invaders. The British Ministry of Information approached Michael Powell to make a propaganda film for them, suggesting he make "a film about mine-sweeping". Instead, Powell decided to make a film to help sway opinion in the then-neutral United States. Said Powell, "I hoped it might scare the pants off the Americans" and thus bring them into the war. Screenwriter Emeric Pressburger remarked, "Goebbels considered himself an expert on propaganda, but I thought I'd show him a thing or two". Powell persuaded the British and Canadian governments and started location filming in 1940, but by the time the film appeared, in March 1942, the United States, which had been trying to stay out of the war in Europe, had been drawn into taking sides against Germany.

<i>The Small Back Room</i> 1949 film

The Small Back Room, released in the United States as Hour of Glory, is a 1949 film by the British producer-writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger starring David Farrar and Kathleen Byron and featuring Jack Hawkins and Cyril Cusack. It was based on the 1943 novel of the same name by Nigel Balchin. The theme is the unsung heroes of the last war, the 'backroom boys', gradually coming into their own.

<i>The Elusive Pimpernel</i> (1950 film) 1950 film

The Elusive Pimpernel is a 1950 British period adventure film by the British-based director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. It was released in the United States under the title The Fighting Pimpernel. The picture stars David Niven as Sir Percy Blakeney, Margaret Leighton as Marguerite Blakeney and features Jack Hawkins, Cyril Cusack and Robert Coote. Originally intended to be a musical, the film was re-worked as a light-hearted drama.

<i>The Tales of Hoffmann</i> (1951 film) 1951 film directed by Emeric Pressburger & Michael Powell

The Tales of Hoffmann is a 1951 British Technicolor comic opera film written, produced and directed by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger working under the umbrella of their production company The Archers. It is an adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's 1881 opera The Tales of Hoffmann, itself based on three short stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moira Shearer</span> Scottish ballerina and actress (1926–2006)

Moira Shearer King, Lady Kennedy, was an internationally renowned Scottish ballet dancer and actress. She was famous for her performances in Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffman (1951) and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960). She has been portrayed on screen by Shannon Davidson in the award-winning short film Òran na h-Eala (2022) which explores her life changing decision to appear in The Red Shoes.

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Ian Christie is a British film scholar. He has written several books including studies of the works of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Martin Scorsese and the development of cinema. He is a regular contributor to Sight & Sound magazine and a frequent broadcaster. Christie is Professor of Film and Media History at Birkbeck, University of London.

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Eric Gray was a stills photographer whose work was featured in Picture Post. His career was mainly in the British film industry and it was based on two Anthony Asquith pictures, Shooting Stars and A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929), that his reputation began to emerge. During this period stills were normally etched with his signature written in an art deco style.



  1. "Òran na h-Eala". IMDb. Amazon.
  2. "Òran na h-Eala". Film Directory. British Film Council.
  3. "350 years: Variety Club colour supplement." Jewish Chronicle, 15 December 2006, pp. 28–29.
  4. Macdonald 1994
  5. Christie 1985
  6. The Times Literary Supplement, Issue 3348, 28 April, 1966, p.18.
  7. Scholes, Lucy (18 October 2019). "Emeric Pressburger's Lost Nazi Novel". The Paris Review. Retrieved 19 October 2019.
  8. 1 2 "Pressburger Addresses." powell-pressburger.org. Retrieved: 19 August 2010.
  9. "Emeric Pressburger." Find a Grave. Retrieved: 19 August 2010.
  10. http://www.themosttraveled.com/Club/Savile%20Club%20London%20.pdf [ bare URL PDF ]
  11. "1st Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners." berlinale.de, 21 December 2009. Retrieved: 19 August 2010.