I don’t know how with all my posts on British films I missed doing one on The Scarlet Pimpernel. More than one, actually, considering the various productions, and I’m the insatiable sort who’s hoping there will be yet another version out soon. You can’t have too many Scarlet Pimpernels. I’m sure you second that.
Of course, I’ve read and reread the book (s) by the incomparable Baroness Emmuska Orczy since I was a teenager. So if you haven’t, do!
The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of the most romantic and intriguing tales ever told. I rank it up there with the best! The world Ms. Orczy creates seems very real, as do Sir Percival Blakeney and Marjuerite St. Just, but they are fictional characters. Or so we’re told.
Whether or not Ms. Orczy based the Pimpernel on a historical figure has been much debated. She was certainly absorbed in that time period and highly knowledgeable. Her work inspired me to research the French Revolution and set my latest story in 1789 England during the kick off of that bloody episode in history. Not the height of the Great Terror as Ms. Orczy chose for the Pimpernel. Rather, I opted for an earlier time in the Revolution. My hero isn’t the Pimpernel–I wouldn’t even attempt to go there–but the explosion across the channel is a prominent story element.
As much as I enjoy the various takes on the Scarlet Pimpernel, I still haven’t seen one that I felt utterly captured Sir Percy Blakeney and Marguerite St. Just/ Lady Blakeney, although some actors have made a stellar effort. I’d like to see a film version that more closely follows the book, and maybe I’ll never be totally satisfied with anything as it’s impossible to fully reproduce the story.
The 1982 version with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, and Ian McKellen is my favorite, although the three part BBC series that came out in 1999 is a close second. Of course, I own all of the above. I didn’t like Elizabeth McGovern (1999) in the role of Marguerite as much as I did Jane Seymour, but Richard Grant made a scintillating Pimpernel. I liked him a lot, and Anthony Andrew (1982)–such an elegant, handsome Pimpernel. I’m hopeful that some day another actor will take on this supreme challenge.
I was fascinated with the 1999 production’s take on Paul Chauvelin in the form of Martin Shaw. Shaw brought so much depth to that character, especially in the third production in that series. I loved Chauvelin’s tender relationship with his errant daughter. Very touching. Who knew Chauvelin could have a heart? I don’t think Ms. Orczy would approve, but it was a great spin.
For your viewing pleasure, I’ve included some clips of the above mentioned productions.