Behind the Scenes - Production Notes and Interviews with Actors

Blakeney Manor, Sir Percy Blakeney's house in the film, is an actual house called Milton Manor, which is located only a few miles from Abingdon in England. The duel scene at the end of the film was shot on location in the Great Hall in Broughton Castle, where other movies such as "Shakespeare in Love" haved filmed.. Other footage came from Blenheim Palace near Oxford.

Anthony Andrews

On playing the elusive Sir Percy Blakeney, actor Anthony Andrews remarks: "The Scarlet Pimpernel was such a temptation. I defy any actor not to want to play the Pimpernel if it´s offered to him! [It was] tremendous fun playing someone of dual character with all those disguises."

Making "The Scarlet Pimpernel" was a "real holiday" for Andrews, because the film took a mere six weeks to complete. During the shoot, actor Anthony Andrews sought to develop a close working relationship with the other actors and his director. To Andrews, it was important to "look at the overall production, to understand what everyone is doing."Although the filming of the movie went smoothly for the most part, Andrews barely escaped a serious injury when a cart he was driving in a chase sequence overturned. Andrews recalls: "I had been complaining about that antique all day. During the second take of that sequence, I was going full tilt down the road and the wheel came off the cart. In a funny sort of way, I had foreseen that happening because I was worried about it all day. So as the wheel came off, I made my exit by doing a forward roll on the ground, nearly giving the producer a heart attack. The wheel, which was made of steel, and the cart went on both sides of me and crashed into the camera car. Then twelve horses that had followed us, nearly trampled me. It was a mess."Anthony Andrews and Ian McKellan learned to work well together, especially in their fencing scenes. Although the final edits made the sequences look masterful and smooth, the actual filming was sometimes dangerous. Andrews had done fencing previously, but he was still worried that he might injure McKellen with his sword because of the high speed movements they were required to make: "We had our backs to the wall in the fencing scene because we had little time to film it -- only one afternoon. It really needed a week. It was hair-raising because when you fence at high speed, you have to be well-rehearsed and really understand the moves you are going to make ahead of time. Since we were so unrehearsed, every once in a while we'd forget a move, putting each other's life in danger. You had to remember to duck quickly. Ian McKellen and I developed a rule that if we forgot what we were doing, we would both scream to give the other person a chance to get out of the way."It was not all fun and play, however. Andrews spent hours walking around his London house, practicing accents and dialects: "The difficulty in playing 'The Pimpernel' is in keeping abreast of the different characters you are playing, not just the disguises. What you have to do is go through the script in tremendous detail, plotting who you are at any given point. It could get very confusing."Andrews was able to bring a part of his own creativity to the many disguises Sir Percy Blakeney wore. While the disguises were detailed in the actual script, he was able to develop the characters to his liking: "They were basically my own interpretation, especially Sir Percy the fop." Of all the characters, Sarron the Hunchback gave him the most trouble, but in the end, he was brought the disguise to life: "Having gotten the makeup on, I felt there was something missing. I really didn't believe in him. Although the audience knew he was the Pimpernel dressed up in disguise, he had to really be believable to the characters around him. The first way I did it was to stuff handkerchiefs in my mouth. He really worried me until I discovered that the trick was to change the shape of his face. So to change the contours of his jaw, I had plastic gum shields and molds made up. Suddenly, the character began to come alive. It's extraordinary how you could put on makeup and wear costumes and you still may need one small element to bring it all together."In a scene of the movie, one of Andrews' disguises involved a plastic gum device, which caused the actor some degree of discomfort: "It was very difficult for me to speak. And that could be a big problem for an actor. But I managed to do this character in bits and pieces. I fell in love with him mostly because he was difficult to achieve and because he was supposed to be terribly sick."

Excerpts taken from: Dalya Alberge, "Interview with Anthony Andrews" (May 1983) and Steve Reich, "Andrews Marked for Greatness," Gannett Westchester Newspapers TV Week (November 7, 1982)

Notes From Ian McKellen

When Clive Donner (Alfred the Great) invited me to work with him again I was a little disappointed that it was not to play the eponymous Scarlet Pimpernel, one of the great romantic roles of popular cinema. The foppish aristocrat who rescues victims of the French Revolution is a master of disguise transforming himself, years before Clark Kent or James Bond, into a dashing action hero. Anthony Andrews, fresh from his startling screen debut in Brideshead Revisited was the luckier man: but I was pleased to play his principal opponent in love and war, the steely politician Chauvelin.

We filmed, as many British period movies do, on location at the magnificent Blenheim Palace near Oxford. I felt at home in the stylish 18th century clothes and wig. The budget encouraged fast filming, so each day was satisfying as the scenes were efficiently knocked off.

There was much to enjoy. I was reunited with Jane Seymour after our Broadway season in Amadeus and made new friends with the Hollywood screenwriters Bill Bast and his partner Paul Huson (who had played the elder prince in the tower in Olivier's film Richard III). 

The film's popularity continues on US television -- for a time there was even a Chauvelin fan club amongst college students. But why should Americans (whether Republican or Democrat) favour a tale about an attempt to undermine the French Revolution, whose hero is a forthright monarchist and whose villain is Robespierre's devotee? 

-- Ian McKellen,   August 2000

Excerpt respectfully taken from Sir Ian McKellen's Official Site

Review of Ian McKellen as Chauvelin

"Not surprisingly perhaps, Mr. McKellen is especially sharp in the villainous role of Paul Chauvelin, the chief agent for the Committee of National Security who is determined to eliminate the aristocratic class from French society. Mr. McKellen, the noted British Shakespearean actor and winner of a Tony Award for his performance in "AMADEUS," is marvelously subtle as Chauvelin. This is an intricately etched portrait of social envy and sexual jealousy. His commitment to the Revolution is just about equal to his lust for Marguerite. Even without being dressed in simple black, Mr. McKellen would have no difficulty standing out among these gaudy aristocrats."

-- John J. O'Connor, "The New York Times" 9 Nov 1982.