The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

dir. Harold Young. “The seek him here, they seek him there…” During the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, a mysterious English nobleman sneaks across the Channel to rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine. Our hero, Sir Percy (Leslie Howard) must keep his true identity secret from all but his inner circle, which does not include his French bride, the mysterious and beautiful Marguerite (Merle Oberon). Excellent adventure with some nail-biting moments of suspense. This is the first example of an anonymous hero using a pseudonym for secrecy, while hiding in plain sight using a genuine identity, diametrically opposed to his heroic one. It’s a brilliant concept, and no wonder it would inspire future heroes with secret identities such as Zorro, and later Batman. This film also cemented the charmingly foppish of Sir Percy, which would be evident through many incarnations, including the masterful Blackadder episode, ‘Nob and Nobility’, which even includes an altered version of Sir Percy’s lovely poem. This film spawned many other Pimpernels in cinema and television, but nothing in the last 20 years. Perhaps the narrow focus on the lives and fates of aristocrats means this tale will not be revisited, certainly Zorro and Batman did not save their daring acts for members of their own privileged class, but that should not stop anyone enjoying this wonderful classic film.

By Nicholas Hudson-Ellis

Co-Founder & Film Programs Manager of Bangkok Screening Room.