The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982), based on the novel by Baroness Orczy, is the story of an Englishman who gallantly rescued French aristocrats from execution at the hands of the Robespierre government during The French Revolution. This rendition of the story, starring Anthony Andrews (Brideshead Revisited), Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), and Ian McKellen (X-Men) is quick paced and exciting.
Taking place in the middle of The French Revolution, during the height of “Madam Guillotine’s” power, the Scarlet Pimpernel works with a band of men in order to bring French aristocrats to safety by shipping them outside of the country. This of course causes him to be wanted in France as a criminal. In order to keep his identity a secret, the Scarlet Pimpernel takes on the identity of an Englishman who thinks of nothing but fashion and fun.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is wonderfully paced. There seems to be one event after another, whether it involves tricky plots to release the aristocrats or love triangles. It’s as if the story was stripped to just the action, which is a good thing for the viewers. We are privileged to action and intrigue without all the tediousness that would have been present in most of these people’s lives on a daily basis. Although this occurs during an eventful part of history most people’s daily lives were pretty normal, with the exception of daily beheadings of course.
The acting in The Scarlet Pimpernel, although perhaps a bit theatrical at times, is great to experience. The facial expressions and eyes do as much acting as the dialog. This creates a realistic tone to a story that really supposes a lot. The plots that are set up are extremely complicated and rely heavily on the people around them being completely oblivious. The costumes and make-up are great and held up by the acting. They lend help to the extremely complicated escape plots. With all the people involved in the plots, it is amazing that they don’t fall through all the time. If it weren’t for the great acting and costumes the story itself would be a little hard to swallow in terms of the plot points. But, that is providing that the plot is considered realistic and not just for fun and adventure. I prefer to look on the story as a wonderful adventure that is accompanied by a love affair.
And what of that love affair? The chemistry between Andrews and Seymour is great from the first scene they have together. Not only are they both beautiful people physically they make a great couple. The love they share is not all roses and springtime considering they are falling in love in the midst of the French Revolution, the plots of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the wiley Citizen Chauvelin (McKellen) trying to keep her heart and find the Scarlet Pimpernel.
The Scarlet Pimpernel originally aired on CBS and was nominated for three Emmy Awards, including outstanding drama special. It is currently available on DVD from Acorn Media.