THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1982)
Clive Donner's "The Scarlet Pimpernel" is a cheerful, swashbuckling adaptation of Baronness Orczy's classic novel about an English nobleman's escapades in rescuing doomed French aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution. In order to preserve the secrecy of his mission, the hero known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel (Anthony Andrews) poses in society as the foppish Sir Percy Blakeney, whose sole concern is the proper placement of a cravat. Percy eventually falls in love with a French actress, Marguerite St. Just (Jane Seymour), whose entanglements with French officials threaten to endanger the Pimpernel's league. The film is the perfect family-friendly movie for all ages, offering humor, suspense, adventure, and romance. Andrews delivers a truly memorable performance as the exuberant Percy in all his disguises. The film contains an intriguing plot, witty dialogue, gorgeous costumes, and lovely sets.
This film was made for television and is not rated.
Blakeney Manor, Sir Percy Blakeney's house in the
film, is an actual house called Milton Manor, which is located only a few miles
from Abingdon in England. The duel scene at the end of the film was shot on
location in Broughton Castle. Other footage came from Blenheim Palace near
Making "The Scarlet Pimpernel" was a "real holiday" for Andrews, because the film took a mere six weeks to
complete. During the shoot, actor Anthony Andrews sought to develop a close
working relationship with the other actors and his director. To Andrews,
it was important to "look at the overall production, to understand what
everyone is doing." 1
Although the filming of the movie went smoothly for the most part,
Andrews barely escaped a serious injury when a cart he was driving in a chase sequence overturned.
Andrews recalls: "I had been complaining about that antique all day. During the second
take of that sequence, I was going full tilt down the road and the wheel came off the cart.
In a funny sort of way, I had foreseen that happening because I was worried about it all day.
So as the wheel came off, I made my exit by doing a forward roll on the
ground, nearly giving the producer a heart attack. The wheel, which was made of steel, and
the cart went on both sides of me and crashed into the camera car. Then
twelve horses that had followed us, nearly trampled me. It was a mess."
Relationships On and Off the Set
Anthony Andrews and Ian McKellan learned to work well
together, especially in their fencing scenes. Although the final edits made the sequences look
masterful and smooth, the actual filming was sometimes dangerous. Andrews had done
fencing previously, but he was still worried that he might injure McKellen with his sword
because of the high speed movements they were required to make: "We had our backs to the
wall in the fencing scene because we had little time to film it -- only one
afternoon. It really needed a week. It was hair-raising because when you fence at high
speed, you have to be well-rehearsed and really understand the moves you are
going to make ahead of time. Since we were so unrehearsed, every once in a while we'd forget
a move, putting each other's life in danger. You had to remember to duck quickly. Ian
McKellen and I developed a rule that if we forgot what we were doing, we would both
scream to give the other person a chance to get out of the way."
McKellen enjoyed working with the actors and was especially happy to be reunited
with Jane Seymour, with whom he had acted on Broadway: "There was much to enjoy. I was
reunited with Jane Seymour after our Broadway season in 'Amadeus' and made new friends
with the Hollywood screenwriters Bill Bast and his partner Paul Huson."
The Actors on Their Roles
On playing the elusive Sir Percy Blakeney,
actor Anthony Andrews remarks: "The Scarlet Pimpernel was such a temptation.
I defy any actor not to want to play the Pimpernel if it´s offered
to him! [It was] tremendous fun playing someone of dual character with
all those disguises."
It was not all fun and play, however. Andrews spent hours walking around his
London house, practicing accents and dialects: "The difficulty in playing 'The Pimpernel'
is in keeping abreast of the different characters you are playing, not just the disguises.
What you have to do is go through the script in tremendous detail, plotting who you are
at any given point. It could get very confusing."
Andrews was able to bring a part of his own creativity to the many disguises Sir Percy
Blakeney wore. While the disguises were detailed in the actual script, he
was able to develop the characters to his liking: "They were basically my own interpretation,
especially Sir Percy the fop." Of all the characters, Sarron the Hunchback gave him the
most trouble, but in the end, he was brought the disguise to life: "Having gotten the makeup
on, I felt there was something missing. I really didn't believe in him. Although the audience
knew he was the Pimpernel dressed up in disguise, he had to really be believable to the
characters around him. The first way I did it was to stuff handkerchiefs in my mouth.
He really worried me until I discovered that the trick was to change the shape of his face.
So to change the contours of his jaw, I had plastic gum shields and molds made up. Suddenly,
the character began to come alive. It's extraordinary how you could put on makeup and wear
costumes and you still may need one small element to bring it all together."
In a scene of the movie, one of Andrews' disguises involved a plastic gum
device, which caused the actor some degree of discomfort: "It was very difficult for me
to speak. And that could be a big problem for an actor. But I managed to do this
character in bits and pieces. I fell in love with him mostly because he was difficult
to achieve and because he was supposed to be terribly sick."
Andrews admits that he has at least one thing in common with Sir Percy: "I've been
accused of hiding behind faces and disguises."
Ian McKellen originally wanted to play the role of Sir Percy Blakeney. He admits:
"When Clive Donner invited me to work with him again I was a little disappointed that
it was not to play the eponymous Scarlet Pimpernel, one of the great romantic roles of
popular cinema. The foppish aristocrat who rescues victims of the French Revolution
is a master of disguise transforming himself, years before Clark Kent or James Bond, into a
dashing action hero. Anthony Andrews, fresh from his startling screen debut in 'Brideshead
Revisited' was the luckier man, but I was pleased to play his principal opponent in love and
war, the steely politician Chauvelin."