An on-the-up Michael Powell injected more than a hint of himself into this passionate tale of a visionary shipbuilder intent on reviving a besieged industry. David Barr (Leslie Banks) is so certain of his modernising plans that he's willing to break the law to realise them. Contemporary critics praised the realism of the location-shot shipyard scenes, while Powell himself, directing his 12th film in just four years, was just beginning to see "something special about a Michael Powell film... something intriguing, aloof, but in the long run memorable."
Later critics saw in Red Ensign a semi-disguised plea for government support for the British film industry. With his uncompromising zeal, Barr is an early template for the morally complex prophets and dreamers - avatars for the director himself - who turn up in Powell's later films, among them Culpeper in A Canterbury Tale and Lermontov in The Red Shoes.