Friday, November 18, 2011

The Scarlet Pimpernel Review

"The Scarlet Pimpernel. By Sir Percival Blakeney, Baronet."
*thunderous applause*
"No, no, no, that's just the title!"

How do I love this movie? Let me count the ways...

Well, sink me, I really don't know where to begin. Odd's fish, m'dears, this film truly does defy explanation. If you haven't seen it, get thee to the library or video rental store (or YouTube). If you have seen it, sit back and enjoy what I have to say. That is, if you watched the movie AND LIKED IT. Because if you didn't like it, just go away. We don't want you.

Kidding. Everyone's welcome here. (As long as you love the Scarlet Pimpernel.) I do half like people who don't like Sir Percy. But only half, right Melody?

I will warn you that this review probably won't make much sense if you haven't seen the movie (or at least read the book). If you want a clear and concise synopsis of the story, go to IMDB. (Spoilers will abound in this post, just so ya know.)

I suppose I'll begin with the Baronet himself, Sir Percival Blakeney. (Here's hoping I'll get through the review without sounding like a gushy swoony fangirl.)

I can't remember exactly, but I may have mentioned before that I'm a Sir Percy fan.

Anthony Andrews IS Sir Percy. Leslie Howard and whatever-the-dude's-name-is who played Percy in the miniseries just don't cut it. Okay, so I've never actually seen any other version of TSP, but neither do I want to. Anthony Andrews perfectly captures Sir Percy's appearance, manner of speaking, wit, foppishness, valor, et cetera et cetera et cetera. Plus, no one else can say "Sink meeeeh!" the way he does. Or do any of those hilarious facial expressions.

His rapport with Chauvelin is even funnier than in the book. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't include the famous pepper-in-the-snuff scene, much to my disappointment, but The Great Cravat Debate more than makes up for it. "And the disgraceful state of these cuffs! Tsk, tsk, tsk. Oh no no no. Such sleeves would not be tolerated in London for one tiny instant."

Ian McKellen makes an amazing villain as Paul Chauvelin. (He didn't have a first name in the book, btw.) In the book, Chauvelin resembles a weasel. He's rather old, very tiny, speaks in a nasal voice and has greasy hair. In the movie, he's much closer to Marguerite's age and was actually her love interest for a while. I was a bit shocked when I first found out that Chauvelin liked Marguerite, but I got used to it pretty fast. It adds an interesting element to the story. Chauvelin was a lot more likable in the movie--I felt sorry for him on more than one occasion. He seemed to be a man who started out with good intentions, and was quickly sucked into the evil of the Revolution. What began as a dream ended as a nightmare. Some causes can become warped and twisted, like some men....

So anyway, I felt that Chauvelin was made to be a more sympathetic character, but that wasn't a bad thing. Even during the (absolutely epic) sword fighting scene, I kept thinking, "Poor guy, he has NO IDEA what he's up against." I mean, seriously, he was fighting Sir Percy. Winning was not an option. "Oh, the English and their stupid sense of fair play!"

I'm forced to admit that Jane Seymour didn't fit my mental image of Marguerite St. Just, but she grew on me. I actually ended up liking her a little better in the movie than I did in the book. I liked how they changed the whole business with the Count and his family. Marguerite was much more... I don't know... likable, I guess. In the book, Baroness Orczy spent so much time telling us how beautiful Marguerite was, it got a little annoying.

But that's where the magic of the movies step in. Jane Seymour is beautiful and we can see that without having to be whapped over the head with it every other page. (Until TSP, the only movie I'd seen her in was the 1980-something version of Heidi, in which she played mean Miss Rottenmeier. It was interesting to see her as the heroine for a change. :P) Some of her dresses were just a little (okay, a lot) too low-cut for my taste, and her hair at times resembled that of Ms. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus, but on the whole I thought she captured Marguerite's air, if not the way she's supposed to look in the book. (This hat is one of my favorites!)

This brings me to another point in my oh-so-beautifully-structured narrative. TSP, the movie, is at the same time like and unlike TSP, the book. I'm really trying my hardest not to put too many spoilers in this post, but y'all know Sir Percy is the Scarlet Pimpernel, right? (And if you didn't... you do now.) In the book, the audience doesn't know this until about halfway through the novel. In the movie, we know right away. And to tell you the truth, I like it better that way. True, it took away a little of the mystery surrounding the enigma that is the Scarlet Pimpernel, but it also gave the audience a chance to really get to know (and like) Sir Percy. When I read the book for the first time, I was a little perturbed to discover that "that stupid guy I didn't like" was actually the Scarlet Pimpernel himself.

Yes, I, erm, didn't like Sir Percy at first when I read the book. *ducks to avoid rotten tomatoes*

I also liked how Marguerite and Percy's relationship was shown from the beginning. It gave you a real sense of what Marguerite was going through: "I have lost my husband's love and I don't know why."

The book is told entirely from Marguerite's perspective, but the movie gave us a lot of glimpses into Percy's take on things, and I liked that. "Ceased? I will love her to the day I die. That is the tragedy." Oh, and his various disguises were hilarious--my favorite was the old woman with the knitting (reminiscent of Madame Defarge?)

Also, the entire last ten or fifteen minutes of the movie were Absolutely Amazing.

So yes, the movie departed from the book. Especially at the end. But I found out that the ending scene with the fencing and the capture of Sir Percy was actually taken from another book by Baroness O, entitled "El Dorado". So it's all good. Note to self: lay hands on a copy of this book immediately.

In short, I liked that they made the movie a little different. I'm usually a stickler for sticking to the book, but in this case it was a good choice to change a few things. The movie gave us the story while keeping the characters real, and THAT is what makes a good adaptation. In letter, it wasn't all that faithful to the novel, but in spirit it was and that's good enough for me. (This viewer was enchanted, in case you couldn't tell.)

Sir Percy and Marguerite's romance is one of the sweetest in cinema history (if we're not counting anything by Jane Austen, that is.) I'm not really a big fan of the whole "love at first sight" thing that's been made cliche in Disney movies, but in this movie it didn't seem weird. Frankly, I think Percy and Marguerite's relationship didn't really develop fully until the end, when they each finally realized just what the other one was. Marguerite had always heard of this amazing superman who rescued aristocrats and risked his life daily so that other people could be safe--but she never dreamed he might be right there in her drawing room. So few movies show what comes after the wedding, and I liked how this one portrayed the struggles the Blakeneys went through "when the honeymoon was over", so to speak.

What can I say? I'm a hopeless romantic. This movie touched me in a way that only very special films do. Pride and Prejudice was one of those, Anne of Green Gables was another. Yes, it's a 1980's TV flick with not-so-great lighting and so-so costumes. To some, it might seem cheesy. To me, it's amazing.

In Anne's House of Dreams, the fifth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, a character named Miss Cornelia Bryant speaks often of "the race that knows Joseph". If a person sees eye to eye with you and has pretty much the same ideas about things, and the same taste in jokes--why, that person is of the race that knows Joseph. Anne Shirley speaks of people like that as "kindred spirits".

For me, a kindred spirit--one of the race that knows Joseph--is one of the race that knows Sir Percy. That is to say, someone who is in the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

So. If you haven't seen this epic-ly outstanding film, do so at once. Perhaps the trailers below will whet your appetite. (Word of warning: there are two brief scenes that you may wish to fast-forward.) If you have seen it, enjoy the trailers and be inspired to watch the movie again.

You know me--I couldn't pick just one trailer! The first one is more exciting, but I love the music in the second one.

Conclusion: The Scarlet Pimpernel is a movie done well. What is it you Frenchies say? Tou-che? You see I'm a poet, and you didn't know it, what? Well, the pretty thing rhymes in two places, don't you see? And if a rhyme rhymes, it makes a poem, if you follow me.


Anne-girl said...

Yours I believe?

Abby said...

As you may know, I absolutely LOVE this film. 'The Great Cravat Debate' is one of my favourites scenes, aha! I agree with pretty much everything you said...although the film is different to the book in some ways, I think it works better.

You have to read El Dorado! I think it's available on Project Gutenberg (text) and Librivox (audiobook) for free, since that's where I read it :) It's so SO good...almost as good as TSP! The Elusive Pimpernel is also's so wonderful that Baronness Orczy wrote so many books about The Scarlet Pimpernel :)

Okay, one of my favourite quotes from the film...
Prince Regent: Percy. Fashionably late, as usual.
Sir Percy: Sink me, your highness, it was this damned cravat. Simply refused to tie. I ask you. Sticking out like a pincushion.
Prince Regent: I might have known it would be something serious.



Melody said...

I just watched this movie recently! And had to watch it twice in a row before returning it to the library. =D

Oh, I love the soundtrack!! You can listen to it online on the composer's web site. He also wrote the music to A Christmas Carol (1984 - my favorite version; it's really really good!) Great composer. :) :)

Miss Dashwood said...

Mrs. Dr. Dear,
'Twould seem your friend is in trouble. To the rescue.

I love how every time Chauvelin sees Sir Percy (even when he's asleep on the sofa!) he subconsciously adjusts his cravat. I read "The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel" but I was kind of disappointed--Marguerite barely appeared, and it was just a collection of random short stories that didn't seem to be quite as epic as the original novel. I do want to try El Dorado though--thanks for tips about PG and Librivox!
And the rest of that quote goes as follows:
Marguerite: My husband is being noble, Your Highness. I am afraid the fault was mine.
Prince Regent: Ah. Well, in that case, all is forgiven. (Gives Marguerite a froggy grin)

Anne and I watched it on YouTube, LOL-- we went to the library to check it out, but it had just been checked out. My dad tried to find it for us on Netflix, but they didn't have it, and so we watched in on YouTube. :P It was actually very good quality, and I really enjoyed watching it (except for that awful ten minutes when the computer locked up, just as Percy and the League were heading to Paris to help Armand...)
I'll have to look up that soundtrack--the only TSP music I've heard is the "themes" video Miss Laurie made.

Alexandra said...

(sending HUGE cyber-hugs your way...)

Sir Percy stole my heart the first time I saw him and I've never looked back. :-)

I have the entire movie memorized from watching it millions of times in the past six years. Quite embarrassing. I'm one of those utterly fanatic fans. And YES, you MUST read El Dorado. Ok, so the prison scene is MY FAVORITE SCENE in the whole film....and it's even ten times better in the book. So yeah.

OMS, I've raved about this so many times. I cannot begin to say how much I adore this film. Definitely one of my very-top-faves. Love, love, love. Yikes. Once I start...just can't stop. :-)

I refuse to watch any other version...Anthony Andrews is Percy to a T. She might as well have written the character with him in mind. *INCREDIBLE* job. One of my very, very favorite actors.

I really liked the added twist of having Chauvelin be Marguerite's former love interest. I think it really added extra depth to the story, to have that added conflict. And Jane Seymour, while not the *description* of Marguerite, so perfectly captures the character.

The chemistry between the two of them is incredible. The tension where they both love each other soooo much, but they can't trust each Soooo good and soooo well done. Their romance was just so sweet, because they loved each other so much. Sniff. I love. :-D

I love getting Percy's POV, too...getting to see some of their adventures. And I have to say the hag is my favorite of his disguises. :-P

And the end!!!!! OMS, I love the last fifteen minutes of it. The first time I saw it (trying to not to spoil things...) I really thought that what they thought happened...happened. (haha) And I completely freaked out. NOOOOOO! So I was SHOCKED at the twist. :-D

And the duel is the best duel scene in the history of film. Period. The end.

I'm doing the happy Snoopy dance, like I do any time someone sees the amazingness that is The Scarlet Pimpernel. :-) Welcome to the League, m'dear!

Madame de Tournay: God Bless the Scarlet Pimpernel, whomever he may be. Surely he must be an angel in disguise!
Percy: (sniffs) Amen.

"You see I'm a bit of a poet...and you did not know it!"

(we always say this around our house when we've accidentally rhymed in the course of conversation :-))

Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm said...

Well I'm definitely in the league of the Scarlet Pimpernel! I giggled greatly at the opening of this post and in several parts throughout this delightful post!
I first watched this film about 6 years ago, my family and I borrowed it while staying with friends and greatly enjoyed it! I own a DVD copy now and watch it from time to time, although I sometimes forget what a gem it really is!
I think these are probably my favorite roles for all three of these actors and the talent shown in this role as Sir Percy is the major reason I always look forward to watching any film with Anthony Andrews in it! He is absolutely brilliant!
Thank you for posting these trailers too, the first one especially is very well done and has made me want to watch the film again! :) The second trailer has a lovely Celtic Woman song but it's a bit distracting with the clips thrown in.
I own a copy of the book The Scarlet Pimpernel and I really need to read it because everyone who has read it seems to love it!
Miss Dashwood I quite love your style of writing, it's so entertaining! Thanks for this post! :)

Miss Dashwood said...

(returns the huge cyber-hugs) Happy dance! When Anne and I want to do a happy dance, we always say, "I need some keys!" because of the scene in Little Dorrit when John Chivery does a happy dance while jingling the prison keys. :P

I do love meeting fellow members of the League. I think you may very much enjoy my next post, which will feature a little something I've made especially for fellow members of Sir Percy's League.

I just love the romance between Marguerite and Sir Percy. I'm extremely sentimental (unashamedly so!), and something in their story just warms the cockles of my heart. One of the most heart-melting scenes, IMHO, is the wedding reception when one of the guys (is it Sir Andrew or Lord Anthony?) tells Percy about Marguerite's supposedly turning in the Count's family. "She must never know that I suspect a thing..." That, I think, was the best part in showing just what Percy was going through.

Oh yes, the duel is Epic Beyond All Epic-ness. Even better than the first one in The Princess Bride. "I had hoped to give you a moment of victory--alas, a moment is all I could spare." Love that! Oh, and my little brother loves to act out this scene: "A gentleman always removes his COAT!" It's hilarious. :)

Oh, and I'm certainly not an advocate of smoking or taking snuff, but the way Sir Percy does it is so funny. Nobody beats his facial expressions.

I do thank you for your long comment, it was such fun to read!

Miss Laurie,
Indeed, that was the only way I really could open this post-- if you mention just the title of TSP to TSP fans, you get thunderous applause. :) It's such a wonderful movie... sigh... I really need to watch it again.

Oh yes, you must read the book. I am a very firm advocate of Reading The Books Before You Watch The Movies. It adds so much to your perception of the story. But if you haven't read the book beforehand, by all means do it afterwards. Just as long as one is improving one's mind with extensive reading, what does it matter when you do it? ;)

Thanks for your comment!

Rissi said...

LOVE this movie. It's been ages since I saw it, which means its time for a re-watch. Also truly enjoy the newer A&E series. It might not be the same as Anthony Andrews interpretation, but it has its merits as this one has its own unique merits.

An Old-Fashioned Girl said...

An Old Fashioned Girl
The first "Scarlet Pimpernel" film I saw was the one with Leslie Howard, so I have a soft spot for his Sir Percy, but sink me, I do love this film! Anthony Andrews does a wonderful job as Sir Percy, and Jane Seymour is an utterly gorgeous Marguerite! All the other actors are perfect as well, and with all the stunning costumes and sets, it's a really beautiful movie- except for the guillotining/hag's grandson with plague/completely unnecessary scenes concerning Armand and Louise.

Charity U said...

You published this the day before my birthday last year. :) I love Sir Percy's rhyme! He recites so -- I lack words. It's great. I love this movie, but haven't yet reviewed it.'s a favorite!

I'm're having to publish dozens of comments by me...I'll leave you alone soon... :)

lottie said...

I really liked this one, but I have to say - I think that Sir Percy was just too old (and Marguerite is blonde.), and Sir andrew they just messed up..all in all, I think I liked the black & white a little better..Or should I say, a lot better? But I do think Anthony Andrews is better at the voice...and chauvelin (despite the fact that he's short and fact) was really great!! Also, he does have a name..Armand. Yep. That's right..She couldn't think up a new name? I guess not. But in "Sir Percy Hit's Back" His name is Armand. ;)

Sarah said...

My sister and I watch this just last night for the first time ever- you will be pleased to know that we are firm followers and members of the League. Though I haven't read the books yet, (and yes, I belong to both the-book-is better-than-the-movie and read-the-book-first clubs), it was amazing! Mr. Thornton and Mr. Darcy need to move over to make room for another hero to join their ranks. ; )

Miss Elliot said...

I have not yet seen this movie, but I have read the book. I finally discovered why you (Miss Dashwood) keep saying, "Odd's fish, m'dears!" Ahhh, enlightenment. It has become my favorite phrase.
I was disappointed to hear that they changed the ending part. I LOVE the ending in the book- Marguerite's bleeding feet, his "very English" unprintable word, and the things Sir. P. and Marguerite whisper to each other as he carries her to the boat and their friend what's-his-name stays discreetly behind. Ahh, yes.

Miss Elliot said...

Ok.....guess what. I have finally seen this on YouTube!! I LOVE it and I am now an established TSP fan. But I was surprised that you gave no warning (and I don't want to be mean, I'm just kinda thinking out loud) about the Armand/Louise thingy. When he first wakes up with the bad dream, you assume (or at least I assumed) that of course he and Louise were married. But then later on when the guy (what IS his name, by the way?) comes to arrest Armand ("Do you mean to tell me that in that very room sleeps one of the most powerful men in France??!!!"), he calls Louise 'Mademoiselle' and I went oh, no. Pleeeeaase. They're. Not. Really. Married.
But sink me, I suppose one can be so carried away by Sir Percy ("I want you to forget Chauvalin. Forget every man you've ever known. Except me.") that you forget everything else.
Some of *my* favorite quotes:
Oh, by the way, I found *this* in the library. How careless of you to have left it there.
Down on the floor, sir. I think we're in for a ride.
Heh, heh, He thinks I'm an aristocrat.
Ohhhhh, the English, and their STUPID sense of fair play.
Oh, and the scene where Sir Percy is "executed"!!!!!! Marguerite crying "PERCY!" and... ohh. I hope we may meet some day, Miss Dashwood, so we can gush to each other. Typing is SO slow. I am going to the Jane Austen Festival July 2014 in Louisville, at Locust Grove. Just wondering- will you be anywhere near? I would love to meet you!!
Sorry, this comment is waaaay too long.
"But then, if you will take a look out of that window, you will see me yacht, the DayDream, ready to take Lady Blakeney, Armand- and my men- safely back to England." -Sir Percy Blakeney

Miss Elliot said...

This is kinda wierd, but you know that I just commented on the N&S review post saying it was the most popular? Well, since coming to this review (yayyyy TSP!!!!!) it has appeared. At the bottom of the list. Hmmm.

Rebekah said...

LOVE this movie too, as well as the books!! I have a feeling I'm going to spend way too much time on your blog because I love your movie reviews. <3

Faith Elizabeth Hunter said...

Love the Scarlet Pimpernel, both the book and the movie. Anthony Andrews is really Sir Percy, though the Broadway version also has a very good Sir Percy, there's not another movie character that really portrays him as well.
I love the entire Scarlet Pimpernel series that Orczy wrote, especially I Will Repay. If you ever read it, I hope you see why this is the best. It really delves into what love is, with Percy providing the best wisdom!

Elena Bullinger said...

Hey! Thank you for doing this. I never saw this movie till I read your review. Now I'm wondering how I existed without it! ❤️Keep doing what you're doing!

Eva Gypsen