A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s audacious Technicolor fantasy, WWII airman David Niven finds himself summoned to heaven after surviving a plane crash that should have killed him.

Film details

Alternative titles

  • Stairway to Heaven Alternative

Cast & Credits


“A Matter of Life and Death gave the filmmakers more opportunities than ever for magic... A truly cinematic story that could not be told in any other medium.”
Kevin Macdonald, Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter, 1994

Set in a gorgeously photographed Technicolor England and a monochrome heaven, A Matter of Life and Death took the imaginative daring of jointly credited writer-producer-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger to new heights.

David Niven plays a British airman who survives a plane crash and falls in love with an American radio operator (Kim Hunter), only to be summoned to the afterlife by a heavenly ‘Conductor’ (Marius Goring). But is heaven just a hallucination brought on by brain injury?

Powell and Pressburger layer breathtaking visual tricks on top of this whimsical premise, such as a celebrated point-of-view shot in which our hero’s eyelid closes over the camera lens. The film also works as a sly satire on Anglo-American relations at the end of WWII.

This was the first feature photographed by the great cinematographer Jack Cardiff, previously camera operator on Powell and Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).

Latest from the BFI

  • Latest from the BFI

    Latest news, features and opinion.

More information

Films, TV and people

  • Films, TV and people

    Film lists and highlights from BFI Player.

More information

Sight & Sound magazine

  • Sight & Sound magazine

    Reviews, interviews and features from the international film magazine.

More information

Back to the top