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.