I admit it. I’m a Scarlet Pimpernel fan and have been since high school. I first saw the 1982 movie (link to IMDB) (link to Amazon) starring Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy (absolutely brilliant!), Jane Seymour as Marguerite, and Ian McKellan as Chauvelin. I was hooked, and hunted down all the books I could find. The movie condenses a number of the novels, so if you read The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, you may be a little… surprised? In any case, you don’t get the same final conclusion at the end of the novel as you do at the end of the movie. The Scarlet Pimpernel was followed by a number of other novels and short stories, none as successful as the first. The novels are light-hearted and overly dramatic, filled with absurd banter and over-the-top pathos. I believe the ending of the movie may be adapted from El Dorado, one of the last of The Scarlet Pimpernel books (but I can’t remember – it’s been a while since I read it.). Emmuska Orczy on Goodreads
Set in the Reign of Terror just after the beginning of the French Revolution, The Scarlet Pimpernel follows the exploits of Sir Percy and his League of the Scarlet Pimpernel as they risk their lives to save men, women, and children from the guillotine. Baroness Orczy’s aristocratic sympathies are clear (noble birth generally corresponds to noble characters), but she does show commoners in positive lights at times. Sir Percy pretends to be an air-headed playboy fop in London to keep the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel a mystery. Of course, secrets have a way of causing problems…
Sir Percy is thought to be the first hero with a secret identity, and the novels (and play) inspired a whole genre of superhero fiction – Batman, Spiderman, and the like. But Sir Percy doesn’t have any super powers – he’s intelligent, quick-thinking, and a brilliant actor and improviser. The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel is a band of young men who works with him, but he is unquestionably the leader and the one responsible for everyone’s lives. He’s a combination of military leader, undercover superhero, and Prince Charming.
Why do I love him? He’s good. He’s courageous. He risks his life and sacrifices his own happiness for the sake of others. He’s driven by morality (and although he’s a born risk-taker, he’s not irresponsible). He’s intensely loyal and even when his own League messes things up, he won’t leave them behind. And… well, suffice it to say that the ending of the novel makes up for the heartache that precedes it.
If you like superheroes, fantastic period costumes, dramatic love stories, and pointed insults, you will love The Scarlet Pimpernel. Make allowances for the 1982 cheesiness, pay attention to the story, and you won’t be disappointed. Just a heads up, though… this is not an explosions-and-big-special-effects heroic movie. It’s quieter than that, but no less powerful.