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A&E Home Video presents
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1999)

"They seek him here, they seek him there...well, you know the rest."
- Promotional tagline

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 26, 2000

Stars: Richard E. Grant, Elizabeth McGovern
Other Stars: Martin Shaw, Suzanne Bertish, Denise Black, Julie Cox
Director: Patrick Lau

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (short scene of sexuality, mild violence)
Run Time: 04h:50m:00s
Release Date: May 30, 2000
UPC: 733961701104
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I must admit, going into this new, BBC version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I knew nothing of the story, and had never seen a previous film incarnation of the classic novels. So, it can be said I same into it completely fresh, with no pre-conceived ideas about the project. That said, after the whole near 5-hour affair, I'm a bit worn out. The production is top notch, but whether or not it really delivers the goods will be up to the individual, I think.

Based on the novels by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, Scarlet Pimpernel is a vast adventure story based around one Percy Blakeney (Richard E. Grant). By day, Blakeney is a pompous member of the upper crust in European society during the time of the French Revolution. Under the surface, though, he secretly dons the identity of "The Scarlet Pimpernel," a mysterious swashbuckler who helps people escape from France before the murder-crazed revolution accuses them of treason. Like many classic "mysterious hero" stories, the set up is fairly standard. Blakeney must tread cautiously to avoid giving away his secret, which also affects the relationship with his wife (Elizabeth McGovern). His arch-enemies are provided by members of the French Revolution and, like many "comic" heroes (i.e., Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne) he must divide his real life with his life as the Pimpernel very carefully. Blakeney finds himself asked to do many difficult tasks, including locating so-called "traitors" in hidiing and fighting directly with some of the larger figures in the 'Reign of Terror.'

This 1998 series (which debuted on American TV in 1999), divides the story into 3 movie-length episodes; The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mademoiselle Guillotine, and The Kidnapped King. Disc one of the set sets the stage with the story of how a French agent Chauvelin tries to set the Pimpernel's own wife against him. When she refuses to help, the Blakeney's are put into prison and are suspected of having something to do with the whole rebellion in France. Disc two, Mademoiselle Guillotine, has the Scarlet Pimpernel attempting to help the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat, Marquis de Rochambeau. She is being threatened by the secret police, and things are complicated when even the simplest people are being set against them by threats of violence and bribery. Disc three, The Kidnapped King, has the Blakeney's pretending to separate. This way, the Pimpernel's wife can pretend to get closer to the old adversary, Chauvelin, and gain information about a missing orphan who may be the heir to the French throne of rule.

As you might expect, the first show has more introductory elements, whereas the others jump right into the thick of things. While the entire story-arc is entertaining and a generally strong adventure tale, it feels too long. The central performances are very good (especially Richard Grant's), and the opulent design is superb, but it seems a bit much. Sometimes, a bit of compression to the stories can provide a better flow and I think Pimpernel may have benefitted from this.

Now, Pimpernel is by no means bad. It's an extremely well put together period-piece with amazing attention to presentation. It just takes a little long to build up steam and has certain scenes that are, in my opinion, far too long for simply setting up basic plot and events. A certain stiffness overtakes the production, making it a bit awkward at times. As I understand it, though, the adherence to the material from the original stories is rather good, making this something that fans of the stories may appreciate more than the previous film incarnations of the character. Regardless, there's still some good, solid storytelling here and when it does get going, the show certainly embodies the excitement one might think of from the classic portrait of this character.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Some slight over-softness and compression artifacting are present in the image, but otherwise this is a clean transfer. Pimpernel presents itself in full-frame, the original aspect ratio designed for the television broadcast, with lovely colors and black-level shading.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: All episodes contain a stereo soundtrack (with Pro-Logic center encoding). It's not quite as expansive as one might wish, but it gets the job done painlessly. Very good, clear dialogue is featured (noticeably excellent quality in the recording), and most sound effects and music get some stereo effects added to them. There is no surround activity and no bass extension of any notice.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Alpha
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD-ROM Weblink
Extras Review: Other than English subtitling for the deaf, the only feature any of the three discs have are DVD-ROM weblinks to A&E's website. This is mildly disappointing considering the length and scope of the feature; a "making-of" feature would seem warranted. The packaging is fairly nice, though.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

For fans of the Pimpernel stories, this boxset will provide a rather epic blast of entertainment. This is an excellent production that, though a bit slow at times, is still television drama at its best. Recommended.


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