'Moonrise Kingdom' invented New Penzance, but the old one's pretty good too
Gilbert & Sullivan
As last weekend’s four-theater wonder Moonrise Kingdom goes into wider release, many would-be Khaki Scouts might find themselves scouring their Google Maps for the New England island of New Penzance, where the movie takes place. They won’t find it, of course, because Wes Anderson made it up. But for the dedicated, there is another option: old Penzance, in old England.
A lot of adjectives can be thrown at Anderson’s movies, but careless is not one them. Given the director’s meticulous nature, it makes sense that there’d be some significance behind the naming of New Penzance. Our favorite theory? Well, the original Penzance is kind of hilarious — in a Wes Anderson-y way.
A small port town on the Western edge of Cornwall, the English Penzance is historically prone to pirate attacks. Over the centuries it’s been raided by everyone from the Spanish to the Ottomans to, perhaps most famously, Gilbert and Sullivan, whose classic comedy The Pirates of Penzance shares more than a few traits with Moonrise Kingdom. These days, the region’s rugby team goes by the Cornish Pirates, and, according to the BBC, “the record for the most number of ‘pirates’ in one place has unofficially been broken by thousands of people gathered in Penzance.”
Another bit of Andersonian goodness: in 1803, the townspeople bought their first-ever lifeboat, but it was sold less than ten years later due to a lack of funds. The seaside town remained lifeboat-less for the next fourteen years.
Furthermore, it was hometown hero Sir Davy Humphries who invented the miner’s safety lamp, which, when you think about it, would make a really good Wes Anderson prop. A statue of Davy still stands in Penzance today, on Market Jew Street.
“It’s a kind of summer destination that we’ve fictionalized,” Anderson admitted in a recent interview, acknowledging that the real Penzance was “sort of thought of.” And while he was equally vague on the Pirates of Penzance angle (“Maybe there is a connection with it”), the two stories — one about an orphaned scout going rogue to be with his love, the other about an orphaned pirate’s apprentice going rogue to be with his love — seem pretty intertwined.
Of course, knowing Anderson, there’s always the chance that he just liked the look and sound of the word “Penzance.”
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