TBT: The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)


We bitch about remakes here at Frock Flicks, and I know there are big fans of the 1934 Scarlet Pimpernel out there. But I’m going to sing the praises of the 1982 Scarlet Pimpernel today. Because when you have 48 years between a substantial remake (which is almost as long as I’ve been alive), it might as well be a wholly new movie. Or at least different enough that we can appreciate both on their own merits.

why not both?

In the ’80s TV movie version, we have Anthony Andrews as the elusive Pimpernel, Jane Seymour as his lady-love Marguerite, and Ian McKellen as the bad guy Chauvelin. Oh, and a certain Julian Fellowes (better known as the writer of Downton Abbey) has a cameo as the Prince Regent of England.

The setting is ostensibly the 1790s, but the costumes seem rather befitting the decade previous. However, the costumes are still sumptuously excellent for that period along with the wigs and hair. It’s only the women’s makeup that’s egregiously off.

1982 Scarlet Pimpernel

They see him here, they see him there … oh you know.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

Let’s enjoy a romantic picnic, shall we?

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

Ian McKellen makes for a suave and delicious baddie, especially because he was in love with Marguerite.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

There’s some good cravat action, natch.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

Beautiful trimming on her wedding gown.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

The makeup does scream 1980s.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

That’s the Prince Regent (Fellowes) in the orange coat.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

The hat game is on point for the period though.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)

So fancy!

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)



How do you feel about this version of The Scarlet Pimpernel?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

26 Responses

  1. Kate D

    One of my favorite movies! A total delight.

    I love the 1934 version too, but Anthony Andrews just embodied this role in his own way with such aplomb. Hearing him insult Chauvelin’s cravat always makes me laugh with glee.

    I always wondered if they chose that specific hairstyle for Marguerite because it was the most 1980s-perm-like of styles close to the period.

  2. LydiaR

    I’ve never seen this version, but now I need to!

    I admit I rather enjoyed the 1999 miniseries version with Richard E. Grant and Martin Shaw (though I think Elizabeth McGovern was miscast).

  3. the StoryEnthusiast

    Ever since my high school history teacher showed us this movie in class, I’ve been a huge fan. It’s one of my favorite films and one I may not have watched on my own. I do enjoy the original as well and agree with you. Why not both?!

  4. Susan Pola Staples

    This is my all-time favourite version of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I know the makeup is Very 1980s, but I really love the costumes despite their overall 1780s look. The hair is as awesome as the costumes. It is well cast, especially Ian as Chauvellin.
    I don’t know what you did, but I’m able to view this on my phone. Not a bad gateway in sight.
    I also noted that Emilia Fox has been cast as Marguerite’s acting rival and betrayer.

  5. Lady C. Longue

    1982 – I might have only been 4 years old, but I had already absorbed quite a lot of Masterpiece Theatre thanks to my dear Mum having the telly on next door to my room – and if it wasn’t that it was some BBC/PBS broadcast that I nearly always fell asleep to very quiet British voices and classical music.

    Digression aside, The Scarlet Pimpernel is the first I wholeheartedly remember from beginning to end – thanks to my parents having a VHS and we could have re-watches.

    I was so thoroughly hooked with this that I never even bothered with looking or being amazed at contemporary or 20th fashion again. It is where I jumped in headlong at the start of a long life of designing costumes, writing and acting in plays, classical music composition, and finally where I have been for over a decade – writing detailed historical romance fiction.

    So this movie has in fact – “it” all for me – Bonus points that it is based on a book written by a woman – Baroness Emmuska Orczy – and that it is the only period piece I can get my long time partner of 16 years to laugh with me and enjoy it (aside from BlackAdder) He would rather watch Superbad or the Star Trek movies for an example.

    Happy International Woman’s Day Frock Flicks!

    Thank you for your enlightening and passion filled posts of information and humor!


  6. Susan Pola Staples

    Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. That demned elusive Pimpernel.

  7. picasso Manu

    Ah, such a British thing, that Pimpernel. Nobody heard of that in France. Sad, since it is “historical” French bashing in one of it’s earliest expression. Always fun. But what can I say? We were busy: War, and killing all those aristocrats before turning on each other… And then Napoleon and moar wars. No one gets real excited about who or who didn’t make it with their heads attached amongst an aristocracy, which, let’s be honest, was 90% a waste of space.(As an aristo myself, I’m allowed to say this… Though, knowing my family great sense of timing, they must have brought on in the class in 1788. Maybe early 1789.)

  8. Stephanie

    I love this version, it’s my favorite. The cast was great!

  9. Sarah Faltesek

    I love Percy’s smug, simpering laugh when he’s at parties. I went as him for Halloween once in college. No one got it (or even knew who I was talking about) but you better believe I imitated him relentlessly the entire time.

  10. Mary

    I generally dislike remakes when the original is so good, but both the Leslie Howard version and this are so good that I love them both. Bonus for color in the 1982 version.

  11. Donnalee

    The makeup looks like Way Bandy, the famous 70s-80s makeup artist. And Regent: was that George III at that time being regent to whoever preceeded him, since otherwise it confuses me if you mean the eventual Prince Regent, George IV…?

    • JLou

      The Prince Regent is the eventual George IV, who at this time was acting as regent to his father, mad King George III.

  12. mishkagora

    I’ve adored this version since I was a child and now my children in turn delight in it. You should have heard my youngest son explain that the Scarlet Pimpernel was simply Ivanhoe in disguise. (Silly Chauvelin!)

    And you forgot to mention Armand….

  13. Charity

    I adore this movie.

    Funny story: Mom and I discovered it when I was a youngish teenager one afternoon and our company arrived 10 minutes before the end, so we had to shut off the library VHS tape right at the most suspenseful part and wait like four hours to finish it. We popped it in our VHS player and hit play as soon as our company pulled out of the driveway! Hah, imagine if they’d had to come back for some reason.

    It’s quality. Even a super picky male friend of mine who refuses to watch anything not made in the last decade (because OMG TOO CHEESY) sat all the way through it, nodded, and said, “THAT WAS EXCELLENT.”

    So, props to this film; most everyone I’ve shown it to, loved it. Oh, and it created a whole host of little Anthony Andrews fangirls among my friends. ;)

  14. Alys Mackyntoich

    Whatever happened to Anthony Andrews? For a while in the 80s he was THE historical costume movie guy.

    • Charity

      He plays the retiring Prime Minister in The King’s Speech. I almost did a spit-take when I saw him, it was so unexpected.

  15. themodernmantuamaker

    Ha! I literally just watched this yesterday for the first time. It was my reward to myself for finally finishing and ordering my CSA symposium poster board, lol.

    And, oh man, had I ever been missing out this whole time! It was so fabulous! 1982 Anthony Andrews is a new fave, I just wanna go around saying “sink meh” to everyone! And super-80s make-up aside I was really impressed with the costuming, especially for this production era.

  16. M.E. Lawrence

    I’d love to see this, despite the anachronistic make-up. But was Ian ever that young?! (Actually, I know he must have been, because I saw him as D.H. Lawrence in “A Priest of Love” (1981), and very good he was, too.)

  17. Barbara G.

    My classes loved it, and the girls fell in love with Anthony Andrews.

  18. Bethie

    Agreed – this is the only version of Scarlet Pimpernel that I truly love (have seen the one with Leslie Howard, as well as Richard Grant). Phyllis Dalton designed the costumes (love her work), and while the make up is indeed very 80s, it’s still a treat. If my husband is home when I have the DVD in, he has to come in and watch that climactic duel. I swear, I can’t get enough of Percy’s honest endearments to Marguerite…

  19. Constance

    He was so good in The Pallisers, which is where I first saw AA,or maybe it was Brideshead Revisited…hmmm