Written by: Richard Carpenter, based on the books by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Directed by: Patrick Lau & Edward Bennett
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Elizabeth McGovern, Martin Shaw
Released by: A&E Home Video
Anamorphic: N/A; footage appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: If youâ€™re really into costume drama, Rent It; otherwise Donâ€™t Bother.
France, 1792. The high ideals of the French Revolution have devolved into the murderous rampages of The Terror. Thousands are sacrificed to Madame Guillotine to satisfy the mob’s taste for blood and revenge. In the midst of the chaos and fear is the Scarlet Pimpernel, rescuing innocent aristocrats, clergy, and critics of First Citizen Robespierre from certain death. No one suspects that this dashing hero is actually Sir Percy Blakeney (Grant), top candidate for Upper Class Twit of the Year. He is joined in his adventures by his wife Marguerite (McGovern) and his undercover confederates. He’s also hounded at every turn by Chauvelin (Shaw), ruthless operative of the Committee of Public Safety.
As always, this A&E/BBC production looks great. They evoke the environment of Post-Revolutionary France with excellent costume and set design, and cinematography. Regrettably, its looks are all it has. It’s not bad, but for a swashbuckling adventure, it doesn’t cause much excitement. One problem is that the reason for Blakeney to risk his life for the aristos of France is never given and Grant gives the character so much flippancy, it looks like he cares more about the challenge and not the people he’s saving. McGovern looks lost trying to figure out Marguerite, but that might be due the lack of any real character development in the script she was given. And Shaw’s Chauvelin seems to change with each movie in the set: from ruthless to sympathetic to cunning.
Another problem is that everyone has an English accent…even the French characters. Now accents can make dialogue harder to understand, but The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t gripping enough to make you forget that Parisians should have French accents. You could make the excuse that the material isn’t compelling for modern audiences, but when you look at the recent releases of Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, you see that argument for the crap it is. And the absence of DVD features doesn’t make the disc any more enticing. If you’re interested in The Scarlet Pimpernel, go to the library and read the book instead.