An unexpected tribute to Benjamin Britten
Let the Britten anniversary celebrations begin! Just last week I went to see Moonrise Kingdom, the cute and quirky new film from Wes Anderson. Set on a windswept New England island, it follows the 12-year-old Sam Shakusky who quits his khaki scout troop in order to run away with his love, Suzy Bishop. He’s a lonely orphan, with a dash of derring-do; she’s a stylishly dressed bookworm, inseparable from her cat. How does this relate to Britten? Unexpectedly, Sam and Suzy’s whole tale unfolds to a backdrop of his music. In fact it’s a film imbued with and indebted to the 20th-century British composer's music: Anderson was inspired to make it by his own childhood experience of singing in Noye’s Fludde.
There’s probably a film buff’s magazine article in how the music is used, and how the story’s themes reflect some of Britten’s own preoccupations (childhood, orphans, and innocence for starters) but I found that some of the most effective moments were the simplest. Suzy lives with her parents and three brothers in a large red house – surely a nod to Britten’s Aldeburgh home. At the start of Moonrise Kingdom, one of Suzy’s brothers plays a record of the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, with narration. As each section of the orchestra is introduced, so are the various family members, with the camera cutting between different rooms in the house. Next it’s on to the ‘Playful pizzicato’ movement from the Simple Symphony: this story, the music tells us, has spirit and a sense of fun and adventure. ‘Cuckoo!’ from Songs from Friday Afternoons puts in an appearance, but it’s Noye’s Fludde which takes the starring role: a school production of the opera plays a key part in the plot; and later on, life imitates art, as the heavens open… But even after a glut of near-death experiences, there's no need to fear. Everything is resolved, to the sounds of the thrilling Fugue from the Young Person’s Guide. It's a heartwarming prelude to the 100th birthday celebrations for Britten next year.