In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1944 film A Canterbury Tale the wartime “Land Girl” Allison, on her day off from agricultural duties, gazes down from a Kent hill at the glittering spires of the medieval cathedral. The view is glorious, but with the arrival of strange sounds on the breeze—high angelic voices, and those of invisible pilgrims nearing the city—the scene suddenly departs from the everyday. To the magistrate Culpepper, Allison confides, “Just now I heard sounds: horses' hooves, voices, and a lute—or an instrument like a lute.” For Blitz-weary British audiences of the 1940s the cinematic conjuring of a Chaucerian past offered sentimental escape from the grim reality of ancient city buildings reduced...

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