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Film / The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

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The Scarlet Pimpernel is a 1982 TV movie based on the Scarlet Pimpernel novels by Baroness Orczy, particularly the first, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the fourth, Eldorado. It stars Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy, Jane Seymour as Marguerite, and Ian McKellen as Chauvelin.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Amalgamation: The movie is mostly based on the first Scarlet Pimpernel novel, but with the addition of the Dauphin rescue from Eldorado in order to give it a more dramatic final mission with higher stakes.
  • Adaptation Expansion: This version spends a lot of time on Percy and Marguerite meeting and falling in love, including their introduction via Percy's rescue of Armand from the thugs sent by the Marquis de St. Cyr to beat him up. The entire first half depicts events that, in the original novel, were only briefly related as backstory.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • In this version Marguerite was entirely innocent of the execution of the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family; when she indignantly rebuffs Chauvelin's suggestion that she could have the Marquis arrested for treason in revenge for having her brother beaten up, he does it anyway and puts her name on the arrest warrant. In the original story, she did indeed denounce the Marquis (with an understandable motive), but she didn't realize it would lead to the deaths of him and his family.
    • The Baron de Batz was a minor antagonist who despised the Scarlet Pimpernel and who betrayed Armand in Baroness Orczy's original novel Eldorado (the sequel on which the second part of this film is based). In this version, although he is still a suspicious double-agent, he is an overall more benevolent figure who warns Armand that Chauvelin is onto him, and ends up collaborating with the Scarlet Pimpernel's forces to rescue the Dauphin.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Chauvelin's first name is changed from Armand to Paul, likely to avoid confusion with Marguerite's brother Armand.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Chauvelin writing Marguerite's name on the arrest warrant, something he did not do in the original.
  • Agent Peacock: Sir Percy. Even when pretending to be an Upper-Class Twit, he beats up the thugs who attacked Armand.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Ponceau persuades Chauvelin to try harder to capture the Scarlet Pimpernel by promising a seat on the Council should he be successful.
  • Batman Gambit: The Scarlet Pimpernel is fond of these.
  • Bodybag Trick: The Scarlet Pimpernel is introduced smuggling a family of French aristocrats out of Paris by placing them into coffins presumably for disposal. Another coffin (of an already beheaded aristocrat) is placed on top to trick the guards at the gate.
  • Burn Baby Burn:
    • Baron de Batz is passed a secret message at Marguerite's soiree, and attempts to burn it in the fireplace. He fails to notice that it falls out of the fire only partly burned, and it is later retrieved by Marguerite.
    • In a later scene, the Baron again disposes of an incriminating document in the nearest fireplace, this time more successfully.
    • One of the Pimpernel's associates tries to burn his instructions to prevent Marguerite reading them, but she interrupts him before the paper is completely consumed, and then distracts him while she reads the message.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Why Chauvelin cannot move against the Baron de Batz, as the man is politically neutral and is an asset to France.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Armand, following a nightmare that he and Marguerite will become victims of the Revolution.
  • Character Title: Unlike the book, the Scarlet Pimpernel is clearly the protagonist.
  • Clark Kenting: A vocal version. Sir Percy's physical disguises are quite extensive, but he affects a particularly foppish voice as Percy that he sheds as the Pimpernel, and is able to have a full conversation with Marguerite as the Pimpernel without her realizing that he has the same voice as her husband.
  • Color Character: The Scarlet Pimpernel, arguably the Ur-Example.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Marguerite pretends a moment of clumsiness and knocks over a bowl of fruit to distract Sir Andrew so she can sneak a look at his secret message.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Sir Percy. Even in his Upper-Class Twit persona, his skills as a fighter come through as he takes down the men who attacked Armand.
  • Culturally Sensitive Adaptation: The original novel had an extensive sequence where Sir Percy disguises himself as a Greedy Jew to fool Armand, playing into many antisemitic stereotypes as he did. The movie does away with the sequence entirely and has Percy disguise himself as a laborer.
  • The Dandy: Sir Percy flamboyantly plays up his preoccupation with clothes and fashion.
  • Dark Is Evil: Chauvelin primarily wears black, contrasting his nemesis Sir Percy who often wears light colors like gold or sky blue.
  • Dating Catwoman: Subverted In-Universe. Sir Percy, leader of the aristocrats' proverbial Secret Service, marries a French republican. He distances himself from his wife when he is given a false rumour about her contributing to the execution of the Marquis de St. Cyr. (In the original story, she did indeed contribute, but unwittingly.)
  • Decapitation Presentation: Used several times, which is fitting as it's about the Reign of Terror. Played for laughs in one scene when the Pimpernel is smuggling aristocrats out in coffins, but also has coffins with beheaded aristocrats too. When he gets stopped by a guard who asks him to open the coffins, he throws the severed head to the guard, who promptly lets him go without checking the other two coffins with the live people inside.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Marguerite telling her already distrustful husband Percy that she has not seen Chauvelin recently. He knows that this is a lie, because he witnessed Chauvelin leaving as he was arriving home, but he does not know that her true reason for lying to him is that Chauvelin is blackmailing her.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: A ruse often used by the Pimpernel and his associates.
  • Exact Words: Chauvelin falsely promising Percy that Marguerite will be "free" after Percy is dead could be interpreted as this; however, in the end it is moot, because when confronted with this by Armand, he acknowledges reneging on his promise by saying "but an oath to a scoundrel is meaningless".
  • Fake Faint: Marguerite uses this to get access to a note from the Pimpernel. It allows her to maneuver Sir Andrew into a situation where he thinks it is safe to read the note.
  • Flynning: During the duel between Chauvelin and the Pimpernel. Some of it is invoked since Percy is clearly showing off and proves to be precise when he wants to, such as knocking off Chauvelin's buttons.
  • Gambit Pile Up: At the end. Percy reveals his men are impersonating half of Chauvelin's soldiers, Chauvelin shows that the rest of his men are still guarding the causeway, then Percy finally reveals his yacht sitting offshore waiting for the signal tp ick him up.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Sir Percy. Even when he's playing the Upper-Class Twit, he can't help but sneak some polite sarcasm into it.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: There are occasions when Chauvelin's actions, although they can be justified as service to the Revolution, seem more strongly motivated by a desire to make Marguerite suffer for choosing that idiot Blakeney over him.
  • Guile Hero: Sir Percy primarily uses his wits in his exploits. Of course that doesn't mean he can't pull his weight in a duel.
  • Heel Realization: Marguerite's brother starts out as Chauvelin's assistant before having one of these and letting the Scarlet Pimpernel recruit him as an inside agent.
  • Hero Secret Service: The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a group of spies and operatives that keep the Pimpernel's identity secret.
  • Historical Domain Character: Robespierre, the Prince of Wales, the Dauphin, and the Baron de Batz appear as characters. Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, a high ranking member of the Committee, is mentioned (Louise invokes his name to get Armand out of trouble, claiming that Armand is his cousin) but does not appear in person.
  • I Have Your Wife:
    • The French intend to hold the Count de Tournay's family in Paris to ensure his loyalty. This becomes a moot point when the Scarlet Pimpernel sneaks them out.
    • Chauvelin threatens Armand's safety to force Marguerite to help him find the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: Demonstrated by the Scarlet Pimpernel in the climactic duel.
  • It's Personal: Chauvelin, whose resentment of Percy is fueled by jealousy over Marguerite.
  • Lady of Adventure: Marguerite grows into one, at first involuntarily when Chauvelin blackmails her into helping him find the Pimpernel, and later when she decides to aid him.
  • Love at First Sight: Percy is clearly smitten with Marguerite the moment he sees her, and she seems to reciprocate.
  • Ludicrous Mle Accuracy: During the climactic duel near the end of the film, Percy uses his sword tip to deftly slice Chauvelin's buttons off and undo his cravatte.
  • Master of Disguise: The Pimpernel can put on elaborate disguises at a moment's notice, and trained the League to do the same.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Chauvelin attempts to downplay the Scarlet Pimpernel's threat by saying he's only rescued a few out of thousands of aristocrats.
  • The Mole: The Scarlet Pimpernel recruits Armand as an inside man to Chauvelin's office.
  • Mood Whiplash: In an early scene, Percy and several other members of the League are cheerfully discussing the League's success, even making jokes about it, when another member arrives with news that the Terror has escalated to the point where they've executed the King himself, and also that one of Percy's personal friends is now under threat.
  • Mugged for Disguise: During the final confrontation, it's revealed that Chauvelin's guards are actually members of the League in disguise, having captured the real guards and stashed them in a closet after stealing their uniforms.
  • Must Make Amends: To make up for his foolishness in getting Percy captured earlier in the story, Armand voluntarily undertakes the dangerous quest of going back to Paris pretending to be Chauvelin, which Percy was originally going to do, allowing the latter to sail back to England with Marguerite.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Marguerite names this trope exactly when she figures out who the Scarlet Pimpernel is.
    • So does Armand, earlier, waking up from a nightmare which hammers home the devastating consequences of his role as Chauvelin's assistant.
    • When Sir Percy realizes that Marguerite was framed for the deaths of the St. Cyr family, he's stricken with remorse for how he treated her.
  • Near-Villain Victory: Chauvelin believes he has the Pimpernel and his men hemmed in to the point where he can send the Pimpernel outside for execution by firing squad. However, Percy reveals that he's been in control of the situation for quite some time. While he tells Chauvelin that he was allowing things to progress to be polite, it's implied that he's really buying time for the Dauphin to get as much of a head start as possible in a way that allows him to have some fun winding up Chauvelin.
    Percy: My dear chap! I never would have dreamt of depriving you of your moment of triumph. Alas, a moment was all I could spare.
  • Not Afraid to Die:
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: A major part of Percy's concealment of his alter-ego is playing up the exaggerated role of an empty-headed foppish aristocrat.
  • Oblivious to His Own Description: At the climax of the story, Chauvelin reneges on his promise to fulfil Percy's last request that he spare Marguerite, justifying it by saying "an oath to a scoundrel is meaningless". Wittily lampshaded by Percy's reaction:
    Sir Percy Blakeney (coming into view in the background following his Disney Death) Sink me; I couldn't agree more!
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Percy gets shot in the arm while smuggling the Dauphin out of the prison but it seems to offer little trouble after that.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Armand passes himself off as Chauvelin (albeit briefly) with little more than a hat, a cloak, and a handkerchief held over his face.
  • Produce Pelting: The crowd around the guillotine throw vegetables at the aristos.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: In this version, Chauvelin was courting Marguerite before she met Sir Percy. However, she was already struggling with how far off their original plan Chauvelin and the Revolution have gone when she met Percy. While meeting Percy seems to give her an extra incentive to move on from Chauvelin, Chauvelin himself never quite understands or accepts just how upset with the direction of the Revolution Marguerite has become. He therefore blames Percy entirely for losing Marguerite.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: Percy purposefully makes Marguerite's married life with him a living hell; he justifies this by his understandable belief that she murdered the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family, but since the Revolution there's this new thing called divorce, hey? Worse, once he's learned of Marguerite's innocence and reconciled with her, Percy still arranges his own fake execution to humiliate Chauvelin, which predictably devastates Marguerite.
  • Pseudo-Crisis: It seems many times that the Pimpernel or the people he's rescuing are on the verge of capture, but many of these "crises" were actually built into his rescue plans.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Percy sneaks the Duke de León out of Paris by hiding him in a compartment of his coach on the pretense of a picnic with Marguerite.
  • Reading The Enemy's Mail: Chauvelin learns that Armand is part of the Scarlet Pimpernel's gang when one of his agents kills a messenger and a letter to Armand is revealed among the papers.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Most of the plans that aren't Batman Gambits.
    • One egregious example is when Percy rescues the De Tournay family, disguised as an old woman with a supposedly plague-infected grandson. Five minutes after they ride through the gates, Sir Andrew rides up, pretending to be chasing the "woman", and actually outing "her" to the sargeant as the Scarlet Pimpernel, demanding that the gates be opened to him too.
    • Another happens immediately after Percy, as the Pimpernel, is warned by Marguerite that Chauvelin knows he will be in the library at midnight. He appears to flee the scene... but when Chauvelin arrives at midnight to catch the Pimpernel, he finds Percy as himself apparently asleep, snoring away.
      Percy: He was looking for the Scarlet Pimpernel. I pray he found a fool.
  • Rescue Romance: Andrew Ffoulkes and Suzanne de Tournay fall in love after he helps smuggle her out of France.
  • Running Gag:
    • Sir Percy mocking Chauvelin's dress sense. Which turns out to have a plot-relevant punchline.
    • Sir Percy repeatedly - and with varying methods - fooling the sergeant at the gate into letting him pass.
  • Sadistic Choice: Chauvelin gives one to Marguerite — your brother or your husband.
  • Sand Bridge at Low Tide: The film ends up on one (Mont Saint-Michel), partly in an effort to create a Closed Circle where Sir Percy can confront Chauvelin without his men as backup.
  • Secret-Keeper: The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel all know his Secret Identity.
  • Sexless Marriage: Marguerite and her husband, for a while.
  • Signature Item Clue: Marguerite, after initially complying with Chauvelin's demands, interferes by warning the Scarlet Pimpernel of danger in the library. Chauvelin discovers this when he finds her earring there.
  • Sleeping Dummy: Used in one of the Pimpernel's aristocrat rescues (specifically the Dauphin) to delay discovery of the escape.
  • Spiteful Spit: A prisoner, about to be guillotined, spits in the face of Chauvelin's assistant (Chauvelin himself being elsewhere at the time).
  • Swashbuckler: Particularly at the climax.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: One scheme has two women being disguised as soldiers and placing them among a party of soldiers pursuing the Scarlet Pimpernel.
  • Sword Cane: Sir Percy has one, befitting a foppish dandy who's much more dangerous than he seems.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: A prolonged and tragic one between Percy and Marguerite, due him being informed right after their wedding that her name was on the warrant for the arrest of the Marquis de St. Cyr. He does not know that she is innocent and it was Chauvelin who wrote her name as informer, and his belief that she deliberately sent St. Cyr and his family to the guillotine leads him to become cold and distant towards her, causing a complete breakdown in communication between them - which is worsened when Chauvelin visits to blackmail her with her brother's life. It is only during the dramatic midnight library scene that the entire misunderstanding is cleared up, as Marguerite confesses her predicament, as well as the fact that she was framed, to the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, whom she does not know is her disguised husband. Even though his faith in her is restored, the two of them do not meet again for quite a while, as he sets sail immediately for France to rescue her brother.
  • Thwarted Escape: When Chauvelin captures Percy and Armand in Paris, they exchange some banter and then almost immediately escape. Percy pauses to give Chauvelin a mocking look before disappearing stylishly from view... only to immediately reappear, less stylishly held at gunpoint by the extra guards Chauvelin had stationed outside.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • The failure of the Baron de Batz's attempt to destroy a compromising note from the Marquis de St. Cyr, along with Marguerite's failure to destroy it after she had picked it up and read it, indirectly leads to St. Cyr and his entire family being executed for treason.
    • The Baron de Batz telling Percy that the warrant for St. Cyr's arrest was signed by Marguerite leads him to falsely believe that she deliberately had him executed, causing the newly-wed couple to become estranged.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Sir Percy.
  • Verbal Tic: Percy's "Sink me!" and to a lesser extent "odd fish".
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: A dramatic sequence revolves around Chauvelin knowing that the Pimpernel will be in a particular place at midnight. In the book, it's a less troperiffic one o'clock.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: At one point, the Scarlet Pimpernel disguises himself as an old woman.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The men in charge of the French Republic have no problem sentencing children to the guillotine. When one aristocrat protests against the sentence passed on his young son, the bailiff sneers at him.
    "Innocent, ha! Show me one aristo that is innocent and you can spit in my face."
  • You Just Told Me: When the Baron de Batz warns Armand that Chauvelin knows he works with the Scarlet Pimpernel, Armand pretends not to know what he is talking about at first. The Baron then tricks Armand into giving himself away, and the latter abandons the charade.
    Armand: If I knew the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, and I do not, he would laugh in my face! He must know you want the boy for yourself.
    Baron de Batz: I?
    Armand: So that you can collect the gold that awaits you in Vienna, when you deliver the heir to the French throne to your Austrian friends, hmm?
    Baron de Batz: And did the Scarlet Pimpernel tell you that?
    Armand: Of course not! Hes not even in Pari... (Beat) Thank you for your word of warning, Baron. And now, if you will excuse me, I dont like to keep Mlle Longé waiting. (exit)
    Baron de Batz: Mmmm.