Penn of Pennsylvania

Penn of Pennsylvania
Penn of Pennsylvania
Directed by Lance Comfort
Produced by Richard Vernon
Written by Anatole de Grunwald
C.E. Vulliamy (biography)
Starring Clifford Evans
Deborah Kerr
Dennis Arrundell
Music by William Alwyn
Editing by Sidney Cole
Release date(s) 1941
Running time 78 mins
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Penn of Pennsylvania is a 1941 British historical drama film directed by Lance Comfort and starring Deborah Kerr, Clifford Evans, Dennis Arundell, Henry Oscar, Herbet Lomas and Edward Rigby. The film depicts the life of the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn. It portrays his struggle to be granted a colonial charter in London and attracting settlers to his new colony as well as his adoption a radical new approach with regard to the treatment of the Native Americans.[1] It is also known by the alternative title Courageous Mr. Penn.



The idea of a film about Penn was developed by the producer Richard Vernon.[2] After listening to a radio broadcast by Franklin Delano Roosevelt Vernon had been struck by how similar his views were to the Quaker philosophy of William Penn the next morning he approached bosses at British National Films and pitched the idea of a Penn biopic to them, securing their support.[3][4] Anatole de Grunwald hastily wrote a screenplay and the film began production at Elstree Studios on 10 February 1941.[5] Deborah Kerr, a rising star, was given equal billing with Clifford Evans, who played Penn, but had far less screen time as the film primarily focused on Penn rather than her portrayal of his wife.[6] The film concentrates of Penn's emblematic importance rather than simply as a historic individual, and he serves as a broader depiction of a freedom-loving Englishman.[7]

The musical score was written by William Alwyn, the first time he had written for a feature film. His score is generally considered far superior to the film itself.[8]

Made during the Second World War the film was intended in part as a propaganda effort to stir the United States out of its isolationist policies and persuade them into joining the war on Britain's side, and was one of a series of historical films including The Prime Minister, The Young Mr Pitt and The Great Mr Handel which were made at the same time, as well as Thunder Rock and 49th Parallel which portrayed a similar message in a contemporary setting.[9]


The film received universally bad reviews which criticised the lack of vitality in the historical figures who often resembled stereotypes.[10] When it was released in the United States the New York Times observed "Penn is definitely not one of England's better film efforts".[11] Evan's portrayal of Penn was generally praised for his "sympathetic" performance.[12]

Shortly afterwards Comfort directed Kerr in another film Hatter's Castle which proved a major success.



  1. ^
  2. ^ Capua p.15
  3. ^ Capua p.15
  4. ^ McFarlane p.19
  5. ^ Capua p.15
  6. ^ Capua p.15
  7. ^ McFarlane p.22
  8. ^ Johnson p.42-45
  9. ^ Johnson p.42
  10. ^ Capua p.15-16
  11. ^ Capual p.16
  12. ^ McFarlane p.22


  • Capua, Michelangelo. Deborah Kerr: A Biography. McFarland & Company, 2010.
  • Johnson, Ian. William Alwyn: the art of film music. The Boydell Press, 2005.
  • McFarlane, Brian. Lance Comfort. Manchester University Press, 1999.
  • Wright, Adrian. The innumerable dance: the life and work of William Alwyn. The Boydell Press, 2008.

External links

Penn of Pennsylvania at the Internet Movie Database

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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