Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In Defense of Howards Percy


                Hello, my name is Anne, and I am very fond of The Scarlet Pimpernel  (Hi Anne…) and I am very honored to be here.  While I do like Mr. Andrews (The shrill cry of “PERCY!” was often heard the first time I saw TSP82.  And at every subsequent viewing…), I cannot stand silent and see Leslie Howard cast aside.  In fact, it is a terrible habit of mine to be the one who pitches for the opposing team, so without further ado…
Perhaps it was because I saw his movie first.  Perhaps I found him more charming.  Perhaps it is because I do not like the others mans false deep voice (though I laugh all the same), and have only seen him with poor quality online.  But no.  Let us go back a little, but not much. 
The very first time I read The Scarlet Pimpernel, I rushed through it in two, maybe three days.  I devoured the beginning, laughed to the point on insanity, and took quotes like a maniac.  My poor brother often heard the sallies of the one, the only, Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet.  The story dashed on, and Marguerite was gripped by the pangs of betraying such a man, and that man being her husband!  I felt for the poor girl, as she rushed to France with Ffoulkes.   And then she sat hidden in that terrible inn.  And she waited.  And worried.  And felt guilty.  And reviewed the situation anew every time the slightest bit of information was received, compounding her own guilt, wishing she could do something, all the while making things worse by being there in the first place.  It was then I started my oft' repeated cry of  "Marguerite!  Stay home!  Percy's got this!"  This is no insult to her.  She is a lovely person, despite her tendency to run off (a tendency remedied by marrying off every member of the league to a French woman, and therefore securing a romantic plot) and she has two points that will always endear her to me:  First, she loves Percy, and he loves her, and Second, she is not her brother.  Then, our French Villain arrived, the end game played out (but not without a rousing round of "Guess Who's Percy!"  I won, did you?) and they happy couple, now reunited, sail off to romantic bliss.  My eyes were glued to the page until the end, but when  the image of “The Day Dream” in moonlight faded, and the soppy grin waned, I found that I was not completely satisfied.  There was not enough Percy!
Now, I know that a really good heroes, like villains, is a precious commodity, and should never be bandied about lightly.  The best villains you see the least of, so all the weight of the evil is left to the undefined imagination, the fear comes from the mist in the back of ones own mind, the unknown, a horror that will swoop down at any given moment.  The same goes with the hero, and our favorite Baroness is very wise in this.  One like to imagine ones own ideal:  Tall, blonde, strong, handsome, recklessly heroic, well dressed, likes to drive fast coaches at night, only tears himself away from the love of his life to save the innocent…   But one like to fill in owns own detail.  Breakfast, for example.  Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet, comes down for breakfast on a fine morning.  What does he do?  How do he act?  As he slices his bacon on the golden edged pimpernel china, and drinks his tea from a matching cup (or is he a coffee man?) how does he address Marguerite?  Does he ask her if her dreams were as fine as he wished them to be the previous evening, remark upon the perfection of the morning and propose a walk, or mention that he will have to see his boot maker, and he means it this time?   Now, my mind is of a rather domestic turn, so if you would prefer to imagine sword fights, pistol shots in a small dungeon, hairbreadth escapes, the like, feel free, and that is the point: everyone likes to fill in their own small details.  (This is why books will never be outdated.)  It is the lack of this information, and the thirst for it, that makes the reader beg for more, and why we will wade through pools of Armand to get at two paragraphs of “Sink me!”
                And this is where we get to the point.  Why do I like Leslie Howard?  For the same reason I like Ronald Colman in a Tale of Two Cities.  Sydney Carton was a sympathetic man who redeemed himself in the end by dying for his rival in love.  Ronald Colman played a man who had natural wit and humor about him along side pain.  He was still Sydney Carton, and he still broke your heart, almost more so, for liking him more.  Percy is a man not to be matched, but he very rarely shows his real face.  A moment, with Ffoulkes, a short speech here, a flicker of emotion there, a famous hurling of a tankard there, and gentle moments with his dear wife.  However, these are just moments.  The laughs and sallies are all good fun, yes, but they don’t really show one the heart of the man.  Leslie Howard is not truly Percy, no.  Some will say that Anthony Andrews is Percy.  I would not disagree with such a resolute opinion, but say only that it is impossible that any man could be everyone’s image of a character at the same time. 
                What I mean to say is this:  What Leslie Howard gives us is genuine glimpses of the man where the true Sir Percy would give none; not for the other characters, but for us.  Examples are numerous: when he blanches after the Prince Regent calls him a coward, as he glows when he tells the French man about his love for his wife, his speech to the League about being fools for a show (that may not count, as being classic Percy), his expression at Marguerite’s dismay, the bit about her portrait, on and on.  Not Percy, but one we would wish to see, not for lack of strength, but that he too has faults, and “by opposing end[s] them”.
                Forgive the black and white for its faults, m’dears, and see it as the chance it really is:  Percy from a different light. 

9 comments:

Maria Elisabeth said...

Let me see if there's anything to disagree with... :-P

First of all, I have to protest against your remarks against Armand. Excessive bad form, you know, making remarks. And Armand does have grievous faults, but, seen as a person, compared against a person other than Percy, even me, he would not come off that bad. But every Leaguette except me delights in hating the silly idealist.

But I would have to agree with your idea of Leslie Howard. The real Sir Percy would not show us as much as he does. Which is why nobody ever guesses...

Alexandra said...

I saw the post on my email notification and was ready to get on here and lambast it. Then I read it and decided I like Anne very much, even if I vehemently disagree about Anthony Andrews' portrayal of Percy. :)

Because, Miss Anne, when you said you picture regular domestic life at Blakeney Manor, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. :) My imaginings often run along the lines of filling in what happened on board the Daydream "after all danger was past" and Marguerite
felt that Percy "knew the meaning of love" in the last line of Eldorado. And what Percy and Marguerite's conversation about Lord Tony's infatuation was like in Lord Tony's Wife. Or what they discussed in The Nest in The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
I love nice domestic scenes. :) Their conversations in the morning while he was tying The Cravat, anyone? Sheeeessh, how adorable.

However...ya know. We will agree to disagree on this. I like what you pointed out...

"I would not disagree with such a resolute opinion, but say only that it is impossible that any man could be everyone’s image of a character at the same time."

I think that for us rabid AA/Sir Percy fans (of whom, I suspect, I am chief), it is a good thing to remember...that not everyone pictures him as Sir Percy. And that's ok. :) While I personally believe he's the personification of our elusive hero, ya know, not everyone shares the same opinion. Nothing wrong with that. (I could go into spasms about the accusations about his gorgeous voice, or point out that viewings of subsequent different characters he's played makes him grow on you (oui, Amy? ;-)). But I won't. Because that's not the point.

I do agree...honestly, the super-emotional, wears-my-heart-on-my-sleeve personality (much like Marguerite's, unfortunately) does wish sometimes that The Book Percy would show a bit more. But what I love personally (no attack against LH, you understand) about AA's performance is that he shows it in his eyes. The man is master at that. Absolute master. He shows how I think that the Baroness wants him to be, that he does bottle it inside...but we as an audience see the agony in his eyes when he "thinks" that Marguerite's betrayed him at the wedding, the intense desire and longing for her in the scene after the Prince's garden party (please, someone tell me...was I the only one who was screaming "JUST KISS HER, YOU IDIOT!" in that scene?!), and most of all...the amazing, tearjerking look of vulnerable hope and longing in the Amazing Prison Scene? Sheeeeesh. Ok, there's a very good reason why he's my favorite actor. :)

So while I *do* understand where you're coming from...I have to say that PERSONALLY...I prefer AA for those reasons.

Now I shall leave before I break into more AA rhapsodies...

Anne said...

Miss Maria Elisabeth: I am sorry if I have been a little over zealous in my Armand bashing. If anyone has reason to hold a grudge it is Percy, and he certainly doesn’t, so I shall endeavor to follow his fine example in the future.
It is not only why no one ever guesses, by why he always wins at cards!

Miss Alexandra: Why thank you for not lambasting me! Kindred spirits are not so hard to find as I once thought. :) And cravat conversations in the morning… Once I read it, I immediately imagined Marguerite “back seat driving”, and coming over to adjust his bow with a “What if you tie it like this?” And he would then catch her hands with a raised eyebrow. The following comment can be sliced a hundred ways; I’ll let you chose. My other favorite is Excuses Percy Makes for Strange Injuries. One can only have so many riding accidents…
But I think you mistake me, just a little. I do really like Mr. Andrews. I will happily be dragged to the AA reeducation camp (Do they have a gift shop?) and come out as ardent a fan as anyone. But even after the hundredth viewing I don’t think I could flatly renounce Leslie Howard. It would be like taking a heartfelt Captain Wentworth fan and having them watch North and South, because you think Mr. Thornton is best. Yes, they will melt at “You don’t need Henry to explain” and chat about the effects of unionization on industry, but that won’t stop her from saying “Tell me not that I am too late” and thinking “Captain” is the handsomest sounding military title. Oh yes, I will notice his eyes more, get used to his voice (apologies) and not scream at the absurd Chauvelin/Marguerite angle. You can praise one without knocking the other.
And while they are both very good, another quality version could never go amiss. Not so much because we need a new Percy (If they do him well, no one will mind) but so Marguerite can be fair haired for once, Chauvelin can be small and wiry, and Ffoulkes and Tony can step out of their roles as plain, unnoticeable parts. A Lord Tony who is tall and jolly, like an overgrown boy with a little more muscle than he know what to do with, and a quiet, deep thinking Sir Andrew whose keen eyes flicker between the faces of his best friend and his lovely wife. That, and conveniently forgetting that ponytails were in style, would make for an excellent movie.
Ooo, I too screamed “Kiss her you idiot!” but mostly I was repeating his name like a young mother with a wandering toddler. “Aww, Percy. Percy! PERCY! DON’T DIE PERCY! Whew! Percy, don’t do that again. Percy! Percy, don’t you dare leave her like that! Come back!” I strongly believe ones admiration for a character can be measured by decibels once they appear to be shot/wounded.

Alexandra said...

Anne - I've got to run out the door, so I will have a Long Reply later this evening...

Let me just say...Welcome to the Leaguettes. Because I forgot to earlier .:-) Your lovely answers to my sometimes rabid comments show me that despite our few differences (and they're getting fewer by the minute, it seems), we shall be great friends. :-)

Anne said...

Why thank you, I am very happy to be a part of this corner of the internet. Here there is no ceremony or pretentions, everyone may be free and open… (I had to think for a minute before I realized I was paraphrasing Sir William Lucas.)
As for rabid comments or otherwise, I am but a girl suffering from lack of discussion, and is more than willing to chat! One can only talk to ones self about these things for so long, and now I have burst. Who knew it would come from this direction?
I just happen to know we will be friends, m’dear. We Leaguettes must stick together, or else get lost in this mad world where any young man with a half shaved face can be called a hero- No! We must strike out for better, and recognize the godly characteristics in the men we so admire! (Loved the post[s], by the way…)

Carrots said...

Sorry to totally jump in, but... (:

Although a die-hard TSP1982 fan, I recently watched (okay, like tonight) the 1934 version. I braced myself for an awful un-Pimpernel like performance, but I found myself delightedly proved wrong! Although certainly not AA's performance, Leslie Howard did bring a little something else to the role. I completely agree with Anne (spelled with an E!) that L. Howard showed him in a different light. Which, sink me, was Not at All Displeasing. :)

HOWEVER, (Odd's fish! All capitals are certainly intimidating!) I also watched recently (okay, okay, that was tonight too. Hey, it's and Friday AND Hero Week) The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel filmed in 1937. And let me tell you, dear fellow TSP-ers, that was something to really sink me for (figuratively). Oh my goodness, the whole time there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. Percy; oh dear, dear Sir Percy! He was being impersonated by an actor who did know the meaning of "zounds". Which neither do I, incidentally. But that's beside the point. He (prepare yourselves!) lisped when he was playing the foppish aspect to Sir Percy. Instead of France, it was Fwance; instead of senorita, senorweeta; instead of Marguerite, Maw-gue-weet. I guess I could have forgiven that were it not for the fact that he was not Percy. At all. My eyes are still wet and my lips are still quivering. There are sooo many others things that did not sit well with me.(Chauvelin, in an name- he was a French Sir Percy. AND he acted like best friends with Percy. And he asked Percy for help. I could go on) But I'll stop now. Let me suffice it to say that if you have any regard for The Scarlet Pimpernel, this film is not for you. (unfortunately. Any film versions of TSP are hard to come by!)

Annnnyway, forgive all the parentheses and my uncoordinated thought processes (aka rants). The figurative wound that this left me is still fresh, seeing as how I only watched it an hour ago. Real quick though, I MUST say....
a) how ardently I admire and love this blog. I mean, LOVE it.
b) Alexandra, your posts on heroes were...how does one put this?... AMAZING. Especially the one about Godly heroes- really clarified my thoughts on some things.
c)I love all these period drama blogs!! To all of the authors of The Day Dream, you lovely ladies brighten my days and make me smile. I'm so glad there are people who think and enjoy the same things!!

Sorry this is long, and God Bless!

Anne said...

Miss Carrots- If I knew your name and address, I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils. I MAY have punched the air after reading your comment. And thanks for the warning against ‘The Return’! Now we know!

Carrots said...

Miss Anne! Could that possibly have been a You've Got Mail reference? "Don't you just love New York in the fall?"....I sure hope it was a You've Got Mail reference, otherwise this makes no sense at all! ;)

Anne said...

It was a “You’ve Got Mail” reference! I have actually sent pencils tied up with ribbon to people, so don’t try me! :D