Film: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Lots of friends have commented positively on Moonrise Kingdom since it’s release last year. Much of that enthusiasm has reminded me of those I know who still harbour fond memories of Aldeburgh echoed in the music of Benjamin Britten used heavily in the soundtrack in the film written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola.

What undoubtedly benefited the film was that it’s publicity has been seemingly low-key and reverential both to the film and the music. Old-fashioned word of mouth has distributed the buzz instead – at least it has where I’ve been concerned.

It’s a Swallows and Amazons type tale of derring-do featuring a girl and a boy – equally ‘individual’ – in a charming story told through a series of series tableaux enhanced with judicious use of nostalgia for 1960s America. Quite apart from the absorbing performances from the two leads Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward – beautifully cast such that we are fascinated and ultimately empathise by the oddness of the two children – the real surprise for me was Bruce Willis’ performance: the man can actually act, it seems.

Inevitably for Britten fans, the film is long aural ‘spot the work’ opportunity. Noyes Fludde, Simple Symphony, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Cuckoo and Old Abram Brown from Friday Afternoons all feature, so too at the top of the film, the Young Persons Guide.

I’d not heard the New York Philharmonic/Bernstein evocative recording from 1960 complete with American narration before. The opening theme is surprisingly languid where the fugue cracks on at an unexpected and sometimes almost out of control speed with bright strings and breathtaking articulation in the wind. When Britten’s orchestra-wide flourishes elevate the theme into double time in the final section, it’s difficult to believe how any new listener wouldn’t get swept along as a result. With the inclusion of this work at the beginning of the film, Moonrise Kingdom does more than celebrate Britten’s music, it transports the fan from the East Suffolk coastline to somewhere quite, quite different. It does so successfully too.

The original score written by Alexander Desplat (interviewed by the BBC World Service in January 2013 as part of The Strand programme) maintains the quirky present in Britten’s music and the film as a whole. The eery busy-ness of The Heroic Weather – Conditions of the Mist: Part 1 – The Veiled Mist is repeated throughout the film in various different ‘arrangements’, the heavily layered orchestration later annotated in Part 7 – After the Storm, a simple homage to Britten’s Young Person’s Guide which will helps keep your eyes fixed on the credits right until the end.

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