I think I have a new favourite movie - not to mention a new favourite hero. I'll have to go back and revise my Top 10 Heroes post sometime, eh? Not sure if Sir Percy knocks Henry Tilney off the No. 1 spot, but he's definitely right up there.
Several of you were amazed that I had never seen The Phantom of the Opera until the other day. . . shockingly, I hadn't seen The Scarlet Pimpernel either, until now! I myself am amazed. . . how on earth has it taken me this long to discover this gem? I've heard that the books were good, and have been meaning to read them since forever. I also knew that there were a couple of movie adaptations, but I had no idea that this particular one (the 1982 version) was THIS GOOD!!
Right, I'll try to write a review of sorts. I find it's easiest to write reviews of movies that I somewhat dislike, since there are always lots of things for me to criticise (bad Jane Austen adaptations are a prime target) - or even just movies that I like, but don't love. Writing a post about a film that I LOVE is always a challenge, because I constantly have to rein myself in, in a lame attempt to not sound completely like a giddy fangirl. (OMG I LOVE THIS MOVIE!! etc.) As you may have gathered, I love this film (bad). And I love the hero (much, much worse!). This does not bode well for my review, but I'll try to write it anyway. . .
The setting is Paris, in the late 18th century. The Reign of Terror is at its height, with countless "enemies of the Republic" losing their heads to the guillotine everyday. One man has been smuggling out victims earmarked for the guillotine - and doing so from practically right under the executioners' noses, saving lives and defying the Republic. He is known only as The Scarlet Pimpernel - his true identity is not known, though it is thought that he is English.
Ahem - his true identity is not known to the French authorities, but it is known to us, the audience. Sir Percy Blakeney, baronet, foppish, filthy rich, and generally regarded as something of an idiot by most of his acquaintance. Little do they know that behind the silly, dandified exterior, lies a scheming, highly intelligent mind, and the courageous saviour of many lives - in short, the Scarlet Pimpernel.
It's essentially the forerunner of the modern superhero story - superman, batman, et al. . .
While in Paris, Sir Percy meets and falls for Marguerite St Just - one of the most celebrated actresses and beauties in France - and she in turn falls totally and unequivocally for him (ha, who wouldn't!). They get married. Marguerite still knows nothing of his second identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Marguerite had previously been romantically entangled with Citizen Chauvelin - an agent of Robespierre. Chauvelin is very much in love - and needless to say, when he learns of Marguerite's engagement to Sir Percy, he is not happy - even though he does not yet know that Sir Percy is the Scarlet Pimpernel. When he does find out, he is. . . erm, even less happy. Marguerite finds herself caught between the two men - suspected by one, blackmailed and manipulated by the other.
Anyway, it's all extremely interesting and exciting.
It's a hugely enjoyable movie, but beyond any doubt, the best thing about it has to be Anthony Andrews, who is brilliant as Sir Percy/The Scarlet Pimpernel. He absolutely nailed the part, playing both the foppish fool and the dashing hero to perfection.
The rest of the cast were good too, though they were all totally eclipsed by Andrews whenever he was on screen. Jane Seymour was very beautiful as Marguerite - but am I alone in feeling that Marguerite didn't quite deserve Sir Percy? I dunno. . . she was awfully nice, but surely such a hero deserves a truly exceptional heroine. . . Maybe it was just Jane Seymour's performance. I'd better read the books to get a fuller picture of all the characters.
Ian McKellen was excellent as Chauvelin, and I had a lot of fun spotting familiar faces from the old Austen and Bronte adaptations done by the BBC in the early '80s - including Tracey Childs (Marianne in S&S 1981, Georgiana Reed in Jane Eyre 1983), and Christopher Villiers (Tom Bertram in MP 1983). Also, Julian Fellowes - the acclaimed screenwriter of The Young Victoria, Vanity Fair and many others - is hilarious here as the Prince Regent.
The production values are outstanding! A 1980s TV movie. . . it didn't sound promising, and I wasn't expecting much, but I was very pleasantly surprised - the costumes, sets, cinematography and score are all absolutely gorgeous. The filming locations are also lovely to look at - many of the exteriors were shot on location at various stately homes around Britain.
Problematic content: there's not a whole lot, but I'd still only recommend this film for ages 12+ or so. The guillotine scenes are not graphic, but they'd still be a bit much for small children. There is also some language, and one instance of a man and woman living together out of wedlock. See also the Charity's Place review.
I haven't seen the 1999 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel yet. To be honest, I don't really want to - I liked this adaptation so much. What do you people say - is the 1999 series worth bothering with? I will try to read the books sometime (another heap of books to add to my mile-high mental stack of "books I need to read").
Gallery (where I got most of the pics for this post)
Any other fans of the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel?