Courageous Mr. Penn

Courageous Mr. Penn (1942) is a biographical film courageousmrpennabout William Penn. It portrays him as a vibrant, energetic leader. Scenes from Penn’s life depicted include his conversion to Quakerism; his trial for worshiping at a Friends Meeting; and his establishment of Pennsylvania. George Fox also makes a brief appearance. The movie stars Clifford Evans as Penn; Deborah Kerr as Gulielma Penn; James Harcourt as George Fox; and Dennis Arundell as King Charles II. A British National Films production, the movie was directed by Lance Comfort and produced by Richard Vernon. William Alwyn composed the soundtrack. Anatole de Grunwald wrote the screenplay, based on C.E. Vuillard’s novel William Penn.
Filmed during World War Two, Courageous Mr. Penn was made as propaganda to publicize British and American shared values. Its goal was to encourage American entry into the war. Penn’s commitment to freedom and democracy was therefore emphasized. His conversion to a non-state church was used to reflect his support of freedom of religion; his trial (and the innocent verdict) was used to confirm his belief in the right of a jury to make their own decision; and his establishment of the Pennsylvania legislature was used to show his commitment to democracy.
Courageous Mr. Penn is a mediocre film. Because the screenplay was hastily written, some of it is not accurate and its tone is melodramatic. Production values are minimal. The actors are very good, however. Clifford Evans makes a fine Penn. (Evans was a conscientious objector during the war). Deborah Kerr is radiant as Guli, his wife. And it is remarkable to see a movie about a pacifist leader in the middle of World War Two.
Gary Sandman
December 2018

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