The Pirates of Penzance (film)

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The Pirates of Penzance
Original theatrical poster
Directed byWilford Leach
Produced by
Screenplay byWilford Leach
Based onThe Pirates of Penzance
by Sir William Schwenck Gilbert
Music bySir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (non-original music)
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byAnne V. Coates
  • St. Michael Finance Limited
  • Timothy Burrill Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • February 18, 1983 (1983-02-18) (United States)
  • August 1983 (1983-08) (United Kingdom)
Running time
112 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Box office$694,497[2]

The Pirates of Penzance is a 1983 British-American romantic musical comedy film written and directed by Wilford Leach based on Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera of the same name. The film, starring Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury, Linda Ronstadt, George Rose, and Rex Smith, is an adaptation of the 1980 Joseph Papp production of Pirates. The original Broadway cast reprised their roles in the film, except that Lansbury replaced Estelle Parsons as Ruth. The minor roles used British actors miming to their Broadway counterparts. Choreography was by Graciela Daniele. It was produced by Papp and filmed at Shepperton Studios in London.


Frederic was sent in the care of his nursemaid, Ruth, to be apprenticed to a pilot. But she misunderstood her instructions, being hard of hearing, and apprenticed him instead to the Pirate King. Now turning 21 years old, his service is finished, so he decides to leave the Pirates of Penzance. Ruth wants him to take her with him, but he soon meets some young maidens, the daughters of Major-General Stanley, and realizes that Ruth is "plain and old." Frederic quickly falls in love with one of them, Mabel. He has a strong "sense of duty" and has vowed to lead a blameless life and to exterminate the pirates. Soon, however, the pirates return and seize the young ladies. Their father then arrives and lies to the pirates, telling them that he is an orphan. He knows that the pirates are orphans themselves and never attack another orphan.

After the pirates leave, General Stanley wrestles with his conscience, having told a lie. Mabel and Frederic try to cheer him up, and Frederic has engaged the constabulary to help him defeat the pirates. The police arrive, but they turn out to be timid. Then the pirate king and Ruth find Frederic alone. They have reviewed the fine print on his apprenticeship indenture and have discovered that he is still a pirate because he was born in leap year on February 29, and he will not be out of his indentures to the pirates until his 21st birthday. Mabel agrees to wait for Frederic until then. The Police return and, hearing the pirates approach, they hide. The pirates arrive and seize the still guilt-ridden Major-General. The police are coaxed to battle the pirates, but they are defeated. However, the Sergeant of Police calls on the pirates to "yield in Queen Victoria's name." The pirates tearfully do so and release the Major-General, surrendering to the police. However, Ruth reveals that the pirates are all "noblemen who have gone wrong," and the Major-General pardons them and invites them to marry his daughters, as all ends happily.


Musical numbers[edit]

Differences from the stage version
+++Originally dialogue.
Omitted: How Beautifully Blue the Sky


Box office[edit]

Theater owners boycotted The Pirates of Penzance because Universal Pictures released it simultaneously to theaters and to subscription television services SelecTV and ONTV.[3]

The film opened theatrically in the United States on February 18, 1983 and earned $255,496 from 91 venues in its opening weekend, ranking fourteenth in the box office.[4] At the end of its run, the film grossed $694,497.[2] The film was a box office bomb.

Critical reception[edit]

Despite its commercial failure, the film received generally positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reports an 81% score based on 16 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10.[5][6]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on VHS in 1984 and on DVD in 2010.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "PIRATES OF PENZANCE (U)". British Board of Film Classification. July 20, 1983. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "The Pirates of Penzance (1983)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Shepherd, Marc. "Papp's Pirates", the Gilbert and Sullivan Discography, July 7, 2010, accessed January 31, 2015
  4. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for February 18-20, 1983". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. February 21, 1983. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  5. ^ "The Pirates of Penzance (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved March 1, 2016.
  6. ^ Review from NY Times Review

External links[edit]