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Ian McKellen struts his stuff as a nasty villain in this throwback adaptation of the French Revolution saga....
Acorn Media / 136 Minutes / 1982 / Unrated / Street Date: April 30, 2013
Baby Ian! For those of us who have a knee-jerk tendency to identify Ian McKellen as a Gandalf/Magneto type, his appearance in this 1982 rendition of The Scarlet Pimpernel will do a good job of reminding us that even age-old wizards were once strapping young men. In addition to his brazen youth on display here, McKellen easily steals the show as the villainous Chauvelin – he’s without question the lightning rod of the entire affair.
The truth of the matter is that even though The Scarlet Pimpernel’s French Revolution historical gravitas and go-team swashbuckling is sometimes fun, in every adaptation of the tale I’ve seen, things get pretty darned boring between swordfights, and that’s clearly the case with this TV edition. Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews give solid performances alongside McKellen, but this is an affair that is heavy on slowly-paced dialogue sequences and light on fun.
Yet when it’s good, The Scarlet Pimpernel is truly thrilling. Perhaps it’s simply the Anglophilic glee I get watching Brideshead Revisited alums jockeying around with Ian and Jane – in hindsight, this truly is a sensational coup of early casting – but even if things are uneven on this release, I can’t deny it isn’t without its occasional virtues. And it’s not a major miniseries or anything – at just over two hours, it’s easy to fall into The Scarlet Pimpernel’s orbit.