Age of Consent is the last feature directed by Michael Powell, who was the great cinematic wizard of British cinema until the early ’60s, when the work dried up after the disastrous release of Peeping Tom. Powell kept trying to get films financed, but it wasn’t until he went down under to Australia that he was able to get steady work for a couple of years at the end of the ’60s.
The film is about the painter Bradley Morahan (James Mason), who decides to escape the New York art scene to get his edge back. He flies out to a small Australian island just off the barrier reef to live off the land. He meets a young woman, Cora Ryan (Helen Mirren), who is wild. Cora catches fish and steals chickens to make money. Her only relative is her gin-drinking grandmother, who becomes suspicious of Bradley after he takes an interest in her granddaughter and starts painting her.
It’s nowhere near the lush brilliance of Powell’s collaborations with frequent co-director Emeric Pressburger but it’s well shot by German cinematographer Hannes Staudinger, whose most notable credit is being the camera operator on Paths of Glory. The story itself is incredibly dated, and to be honest, it’s a bit on the creepy side… it’s hard not to see some parallels between Mason’s performance as Humbert Humbert in Lolita and his role here: although the girl is of age, she is still incredibly young, and he is a 60-year-old man. However, Mirren shines in her first major feature role, and you totally get why this much older man is attracted to her.
Overall, it’s a lesser Powell film, but when you’ve done so many great films in the ’40s and ’50s it’s hard to not go out with a whimper rather than a bang. So it’s a still a good film with two incredibly strong performances, Mason had wanted to work with Powell for years, but this was the first and only time they managed it. They tried to get an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest off the ground after Age of Consent to no avail. Despite it being Powell’s last feature, he would continue to try to get films off the ground till the day he died, he even tried with Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope for a while!
Indicator has compiled a lovely set of extras. First up is the BBC children’s film The Boy Who Turned Yellow, which was the last time Powell and Pressburger collaborated. Two audio interviews with Powell, one with Pressburger, and one solo, which play as alternative audio commentaries. The critic Kent Jones’s 2009 commentary track is included as well. There are interviews from people such as Mirren and Martin Scorsese, amongst others, ported over from the 2009 Region 1 DVD. Ian Christie supplies an appreciation of the film, which is newly filmed. The trailer and image gallery finishes off the on-disc extras. The booklet includes essays from Samm Deighan and Vic Prat, archival recollections by the cast and crew, and an overview of contemporary critical responses.