The Scarlet Pimpernel [DVD]
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An Eighties remake of the classic tale about the elusive 18th Century adventurer. Sir Percy Blakeney (Anthony Andrews), an English fop, is in reality the Scarlet Pimpernel, scourge of the French Revolution and rescuer of the aristocracy from the executioner's guillotine. When he saves Armand St Just from street thugs, he meets and falls in love with Armand's beautiful sister, Marguerite (Jane Seymour). He cannot, however, reveal his true identity to her.
It's tough trying to beat the 1934 version of the popular adventure-romance story, starring Leslie Howard as the 18th-century British hero who poses as a fop in London society but runs a secret mission to rescue the doomed in Robespierre's Paris. But this 1982 television version, starring Anthony Andrews (Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited) as the Pimpernel and Jane Seymour as his beloved but estranged wife, is quite a treat. Andrews and Seymour expertly capture the essence of a relationship suffering from misunderstandings and elusive passion, and there is plenty of crackle to the action sequences. Clive Donner (What's New, Pussycat?) brings some strong cinematic qualities to this television presentation. --Tom KeoghSee all Product description
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Chauvelin's obsession with the beautiful Marguerite St Just (Jane Seymour, confidently fitting the description), though not in the books, does not detract from the character - the Revolution still comes first for him, and he is able to recover from his infatuation and blackmail Marguerite into unwittingly betraying her husband. Ian McKellen is undoubtedly the best, most human, and believable Chauvelin to date - his clumsy wooing of Marguerite, his subtle manipulation of Robespierre, and his awkwardness when being forced to dance with Lady Grenville when his mind is on the capture of the Pimpernel, make for an intricate characterisation of the French government agent. Anthony Andrews is comic as the foppish Sir Percy (though not as knowingly witty as Leslie Howard's take), and handsome as the Pimpernel. The duel between hero and villain, though purely artistic licence, is well choreographed, relevant to the characters, and allows just enough testosterone-fuelled buckling of swash to close the action without losing the plot. Jane Seymour's Marguerite, though watered down to maintain the sympathy of the audience, is definitely worth fighting over as the confident French actress. The supporting cast - mostly stock actors from television period dramas of the time - play their parts well, especially Malcolm Jamieson as Armand (the definitive Armand, in my mind), and Eleanor David as Louise (much improved on Armand's betrothed, Jeanne Lange, in 'Eldorado'). Gordon Gostelow and Carol Macready are also great entertainment as the Dauphin's earthy gaolers ("Shut up, woman!")
The DVD allows this film to stand up to the many viewings it demands, despite the odd scratch on what is now a twenty-plus year old production, which is fortunate for me - I must have seen 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' over thirty times by now! I would recommend this version as the ultimate adaptation of the book - swifter than the first film, yet remaining true to the Baroness Orczy's stories, in approach if not in every detail.
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