Scarlet Pimpernel, The (DVD Review)28 Apr, 2013 By: John Latchem
Stars Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, Ian McKellen.
Batman wasn’t the first hero to disguise his activities by posing as a wealthy playboy. Bruce Wayne’s eccentric duality drew a great deal of inspiration from Zorro, but also shares many similarities with the Scarlet Pimpernel, as is patently obvious to anyone who takes a fresh look at that literary character, especially in this 1982 TV movie adaptation.
The film is based on the book series by Baroness Orczy, in particular the character’s debut in 1905’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, which introduces Sir Percy Blakeney as a wealthy British baronet who poses as a foppish dandy to distract authorities from suspecting him as the master-of-disguise responsible for rescuing French aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution. The movie also absorbs elements of 1913’s Eldorado, in which the Scarlet Pimpernel and his followers attempt to rescue the young son of the recently executed French King Louis XVI.
Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited) brings a theatricality to his performance, not only with his pronounced mannerisms as Blakeney’s public persona, but also the over-the-top manner in which he acts as the Pimpernel in disguise, informing the audience as to his true identity while keeping the ones he’s trying to fool utterly clueless.
Complicating his efforts are a whirlwind romance with actress Marguerite St. Just (Jane Seymour, looking beautiful despite a variety of wild hairstyles), and her former lover Paul Chauvelin (a much younger Ian McKellen), the chief agent of the overzealous Committee of Public Safety tasked with capturing the Scarlet Pimpernel.
As most of the French characters are played by British actors, it’s sometimes tricky to sort everything out. The film looks every bit of its 30 years, owing more to how it was shot than any preservation efforts. There’s no mistaking the visual distinctiveness of British productions from the 1970s and ’80s.
All things considered, the DVD looks pretty good, benefiting from a vibrant color palette employed by the filmmakers. The film offers a solid adventure that holds up rather well to the vagaries of time, a testament not only to the talents of the cast and crew involved, but also the enduring legacy of the original stories.