January 8, 2011

The Scarlet Pimpernel - Classic Novel and A&E Miniseries

So over the holidays I had myself a bit of a Scarlet Pimpernel marathon.  I read the classic novel by Baroness Orczy and then watched the 1999 A&E six-part TV miniseries featuring Richard Grant and Elizabeth McGovern. Notwithstanding, I have watched the original 1934 The Scarlet Pimpernel movie starring Leslie Howard over half a dozen times, my favourite film version.

Simply brilliant.  Two words that sum up the novel. I cannot believe it has taken me so long to read this classic novel but it was absolutely wonderful. The only thing wrong with the novel is that it was too darn short! I mourned the ending of the adventure. There are sequels (and prequels) to the original story but I am content to have read just The Scarlet Pimpernel and no farther, which I will explain why in a bit more detail below.

Orczy was brilliant at characterization...contrasting mannerisms and speech of characters from different strata of society in England and in France.  The adventure is taut and rollicking and the longings of Percy and Marguerite wrap around your heart. Though short in length, the book has many nuances of emotion and thoughts by the characters, adding dimension to the story that is lacking in the film versions. For instance, in film versions it never comes across that Marguerite is an intellectual, as well as an actress, but that is how she is described by Baroness Orczy.

I think the miniseries is enjoyable in the context of the events of the French Revolution, though I venture the miniseries is not entirely accurate. As to staying true to the plot and relationships in the novel, the miniseries takes many, many liberties, which I think is unfortunate. There are many surprising events happening, many of which I did not agree with, which has decided me not to continue to read any more novels in the series, to preserve my pleasure of The Scarlet Pimpernel novel. Now having read the book, gaining more understanding about the motivations of all the characters, I appreciate the story even more and rank it as one of my all time favourite story concepts.

My favourite quote from the 1999 A&E TV miniseries is when Sir William Wetherby says to Percy, "More pimp than Pimpernel, what".  I laughed hysterically...In the last episode Sir Percy plays at a bit of matchmaking...    

I have watched The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) many times, each time enjoying it as much as the first time. The 1934 version captures the intensity, fraught emotions and sweetness of love renewed imparted in the novel. So I highly recommend the novel by Baroness Orczy and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) movie but only recommend the A&E TV miniseries (1999) version for those you interested in another perspective of the French Revolution and a bit of adventure.

My Rating - Novel: 4.5
My Rating - A&E Miniseries: 3.0

Amazon.com This Amazon edition is enriched with notes and commentary.

A&E Miniseries


  1. Hello, I read your lovely review of 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' on Librarything, and linked to your blog to say thank you for reminding me why I adore this novel so much! (And have so many copies!) I shall have to read it again soon.

    Please do try the sequels, especially 'Eldorado' (the 1982 film version with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour was partly based on this story) and 'Sir Percy Hits Back' (if you find Chauvelin as entertaining as Percy and Marguerite). 'Eldorado', about the rescue of the Dauphin, is my favourite in the series.

    And if you love the 1934 film, there was a sequel made in 1938 called 'The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel', which is also fantastic. No big names like Leslie Howard or Merle Oberon, but enchanting to watch.

    Thank you again,


  2. Thanks! Eldorado was featured in the A&E miniseries and I enjoyed the storyline. I was disappointed with the miniseries because I couldn't really handle the concept of the series without Marguerite.

    But the 1938 film sequel looks very good though, so I will take a chance on that and maybe the other novel sequels you suggested. Thanks so much for suggesting to me...I really appreciate it. I know I will be reading the novel again and again, it was that great.

  3. I ADORE the 1982 version. I am reading El Dorado right now for the first time.

  4. Oh my goodness please do read the sequels! Especially Eldorado. I think that's the most well written and suspensefull out of all of them! The A&E miniseries attempt at handling the storyline looks absolutely silly compared to the way Orczy originally wrote it.
    Also, most of The Scarlet Pimpernel focuses on Marguerite, while the sequels give a more indepth look at the other characters like Percy. Eldorado also has a lot of Armond and the League as well.

    I hope you enjoy them!
    <3 Corinne