Wednesday, October 13, 2010

had an idea 5 years ago . . .

It has been announced that a Scarlet Pimpernel movie is in the works. In typical fanboy fashion, I'm as excited as I am disappointed. I have loved the Scarlet Pimpernel since the summer of 1999, when my senior class trip took me to New York City -- there I got to see Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton's fantastic Scarlet Pimpernel musical. I came home from New York singing to the show tunes and having an insatiable desire to consume as much Scarlet Pimpernel as I could.

I found Baroness Orczy's book. I read it and was surprised to discover it was written as a mystery. The book's original conceit was, "who is The Scarlet Pimpernel?" I had always known who he was. The Pimpernel was as attached to Percy as Superman is to Clark Kent. But it's a fantastic book and I'd recommend it to anyone. It's still one of my favorites.

I sought out the movies. There's an old Jane Seymour/Ian McKellan version, but I wasn't overly impressed with it. The musical and the book are filled with such verve and sweeping romance, that this adaptation just didn't do it justice. It felt like a stodgy period piece. I wanted something with more swash, buckle, and humor -- something more akin to Pirates of the Caribbean. I also found a couple episodes of a BBC produced Scarlet Pimpernel miniseries, but was never able to watch the full series. I wasn't overly impressed with what I saw. Their take on the story was much grittier than I thought it should be.

So for Screenwriting 102 I wrote my adaptation. It's more of an re-imagining than a straight adaptation. My version was less of a mystery and more of a superhero origin story because, after all, the Scarlet Pimpernel was the original dual-identity story. In my version, we got to see the thought process of Percy. We got to see why he chose this dual-life.

It has been my dream to, someday, make that movie. And since it seems someone is beating me to it, I thought I'd post my treatment for the script. As I re-read it, I notice I made some changes to the script after this stage, but this (overall) represents my vision for (what I hoped would be) the first in a franchise of adventures.

The Scarlet Pimpernel



Blakeney Manor, England, September 1792. Young, handsome, blond-haired, blue-eyed PERCIVAL BLAKENEY (“Percy” to his friends) crosses swords with SIR ANTHONY DEWHURST. The sounds of their laughter and their swords clanging echo through the large, grandiose manor as they make their way up and down halls, up and over sofas, across tables and always interrupting servants’ work. Percy has no regard or respect for anything and many, many, fine things are destroyed in the friends’ duel. The only thing quicker than Percy and Anthony’s swords is their wit as they trade friendly barbs.

The light-hearted duel takes them through all the halls of the manor, out the back door, and into an orchard in the back yard. There, sitting in the shade of a particularly large and blossoming tree sit MARGUERITE, Percy’s fiery, beautiful French wife, and LLEWELLYN, Anthony’s young English fiancée. The women are talking and laughing about their men. Percy, ever aware of the situation, sees a glimmer of excitement in Llewellyn’s eye and lets Anthony win. Marguerite knows this but lets Llewellyn believe her man bested Percy. Truth be told, this very selfless and humbling act endeared Percy to Marguerite all the more.

Later that night, the lord of the manor, LORD BLAKENEY, surveys the damage his young and reckless son caused that afternoon. He’s ashamed of his son, the fact that he’s as old as he is and hasn’t any respect for him or his possessions. Lord Blakeney finds Percy and tells his son, in so many words, he’s living a vain and useless life. This isn’t a new conversation for Percy and his father to be having, but there’s a gravity to Lord Blakeney’s words that Percy has never heard before. Lord Blakeney says “good night” after telling Percy that he is shaming himself, his name, and his God.

Percy retreats to his quarters where he finds his young wife, Marguerite, waiting for him. She holds him and assuages the wounds his father’s tongue-lashing caused. They kiss and are about to make love when a servant rushes into the room, claiming that Percy’s father has collapsed. Percy pushes past the servant and runs down the corridor to his father’s room, where he arrives just in time to see his father gasp his last breath.

It’s raining at the funeral. The many people who looked up to Lord Blakeney, whether they be friends, family, or complete strangers, stand in the rain to pay respect to the greatest man they ever knew or heard of. Percy stands outside the crowd, watching from the same distance he felt his father always kept him at. As he turns to leave, he notices a small red flower sprouting up at the tip of his boot. He picks it and then notices an artistic variation of the same kind of flower etched on every tombstone in his family’s cemetery. The scarlet flower is a pimpernel. He drops it and walks away.

That night, in Paris, in an office above the Comédie Française, ARMAND ST JUST, a pudgy Frenchman, is running in circles. Soldiers are on their way to shut down the theatre and arrest him for being a conspirator against the revolution. He’s tearing up his own office, in search of something. Finally, just as the soldiers burst in the front door of the theatre, he finds a large black ledger and escapes out the back door. CHAUVELIN, a meticulous man and the chief inspector, curses under his breath and orders the men to find what they can.

Back in Blakeney manor, Percy’s countenance has completely clouded over. He’s moody, angry and sullen. His father’s words are still echoing through his mind. His wife, desperate to please her man, decides to throw him a party. Percy can’t believe his wife but goes along with it. But the party, if it can be called that, is abysmal. Only the Blakeneys’ closest friends are invited: Anthony and Llewellyn (who we met in the first scene), ANDREW and JOANNA, and FARLEIGH and JOANNA. The men sit in Percy’s study in a palpable, awkward silence.

The silence is shattered by the arrival of Armand, the Frenchman we met fleeing the authorities in Paris. He’s Marguerite’s brother and Percy’s brother-in-law. Percy and him are closer than brothers and it shows. He comes in, begging for help, pleading that Percy help him. He tells them that he’s a wanted man, that he’s wanted because he’s counter-revolutionist. He details for them what is actually going on in France, what the Reign of Terror actually is, and tells them why he must fight it. Everyone but Percy is shocked into silence. He leaps at this chance. They’ve always prided themselves on their hunting skills, but what game is left for them to hunt? This is something that could excite him, something to get the blood pumping back through his veins. They’ll make a game of it, whoever can save the most aristocrats from the guillotine and smuggle them out of Paris, wins. Some of the men are appalled at first but it doesn’t take Percy much work to convince everyone of it.

Percy’s cover-up story to Marguerite is that he is going away for a week, to visit his old friends the St Cyrs, who live in northern France. He has Armand come to his room later and draw him a map of Paris, detailing where the prisons are and the easiest way to get to and from them. He has so much to tell Percy, he gets excited and starts speaking French and before he can explain himself, Marguerite enters and ushers him out. She takes Percy to bed and apologizes for the way she behaved, forcing him into a party he didn’t want. It’s just that they haven’t known each other long enough, quite simply, and this is the first tragedy they’ve gone through together. They’re still learning about each other. Percy would forgive her if he felt she needed to be forgiven.

Crossing the Channel on The Day Dream, Percy’s schooner, Percy is talking to Farleigh, his oldest friend. He doesn’t like the guilt he’s feeling over having lied to Marguerite about why he’s going to France. He doesn’t ever want to do that.

Chauvelin and his men sift through the remains of Armand’s office, searching for anything that might lead to the capture of Armand and his band of counter-revolutionists. They find nothing. They’re about to leave when Chauvelin spies an old, torn poster from a play the theatre put on years ago. At the forefront of the poster is Marguerite, who had the starring role. Chauvelin looks at the poster and wonders aloud whatever happened to Marguerite, and someone, one of his subordinates, says she married “some Englishman.”

A little German woman rambles through the streets of Paris in rickety wooden cart. She has stringy, greasy grey hair, a lumpy nose and a wart high on her right cheek from which two black hairs sprout out of. As she passes a prison, French soldiers commandeer her wagon. They don’t kick her out, so she sits in the passenger seat and watches as the Frenchmen dump her cargo out onto the street and then fill her wagon with aristocrats from the prison. The French soldiers then drive the cart to the city centre, to the Plaza of Execution. The aristocratic family (an old man, and old woman, and their young children) are led to the guillotine and beheaded, much to the delight of the crowd. The German woman is sickened. She pushes her way to the crowd, falls into the gutter, and vomits. After which, she wipes her mouth, which bumps her nose loose, which falls into the gutter – revealing that the German woman is, in fact, Percy. He spots a paddy wagon filled with more condemned people and steals it while no-one’s looking. He takes it out into the countryside and frees the people. He leaves a note, signed with a sketch of a pimpernel, saying that these few are but the first.

The Committee of Surveillance, overseen by FOUCQUIER-TINVILLE, BIBOT, DANTON, TALLIEN, and COLLOT D’HERBOIS, was set up to be the new (if not temporary) government to replace the royal regime. They give Chauvelin the charge of going to England and rooting out this man who freed the condemned. Chauvelin asks how they know it was an Englishman who did this. They tell him that at a particular prison, this Englishman simply walked in and demanded the prisoners, and he was given them. Chauvelin understands, and swears that as he won’t have any authority to arrest “the Pimpernel” in England, he will kill him.

Back in England, Marguerite sneaks into Armand’s room, finds his ledger, flips through it, and copies an address out of it. Armand comes in just as she’s finished and wonders what she was doing. He suspects the worst. The St Cyrs’ address is at the top of the open page.

Percy and his men meet at The Fisherman’s Rest to find out who won their wager. Tony is absolutely ecstatic about how he just walked into a prison and requested the prisoners and the soldiers handed them over. Percy wins, but takes no pride in his victory. Instead, he declares it was for this he was born and that his life now has a purpose. He will use what he has to save as many innocents as he can. Maybe then he can escape the memory of his disapproving father and prove to himself that he is someone he can be proud of.

Armand, praying that he’s wrong but ultimately suspecting his sister to be a spy, goes to Marguerite and tries to ascertain her political allegiance but leaves the meeting unsatisfied.

Chauvelin goes down to the port on the coast of France and discovers there’s only one ship heading to England in the time frame he needs: The Day Dream. He finds the owner of the ship, Percy, and requests passage. Percy, thinking Chauvelin looks familiar but not knowing who he is or what his purpose in England is, agrees. On the trip over to England, Percy and Chauvelin talk and Percy finds out that Chauvelin is looking for “this pimpernel fellow.” When Chauvelin asks what Percy and his friends were doing in France, Tony panics and blurts out “Frou-frou!”

Marguerite meets the men at the dock. Armand confides in Percy his doubts and fears about Marguerite. Percy blows off Armand and his fears just in time to hear Marguerite invite Chauvelin to stay with them. Armand looks at Percy, silently saying, “See?”

The head of the French revolution, the Committee of Surveillance, have a letter that discloses the whereabouts of the St Cyrs, a family that is not only aristocratic, but is involved with counter-revolutionary groups. They have this letter thanks to a spy in England.

Percy is bubbling over with excitement like a kid at Christmas. He tells Armand he’s going to do this. He’s going to commit his every resource to this cause for as long as he can, for as long as he has breath in his lungs.

Over breakfast the following morning, Percy and Marguerite get into an argument over the French Revolution. Marguerite supports it, though she admits that it has gotten a little out of hand. Percy, having seen the horrors (but not being able to reveal that), has to rely on his having grown up a noble as to why he’s completely against it. Needless to say, he leaves breakfast fearing that Armand might be right. Marguerite might be a spy for the fledgling, forming French government.

Anthony and Llewellyn hold a pre-marital party. Percy convinces Chauvelin to come, who is openly reluctant, as the Prince of Wales will be there, and he knows his political views will not be appreciated – though he secretly wants and needs to go, so that he might catch a lead on the Pimpernel.

Before the party begins, Percy catches word that the St Cyrs were found, arrested, and executed. All evidence suggests that Marguerite is working as a spy for the new French government, which breaks Percy’s heart. He sends word forward to his friends that there is a spy amongst them and they must continue playing the game, they can admit nothing. They must play the role of fashion-conscious fops. He confronts Marguerite and wants to believe her when she swears she had no idea that the black book of Armand’s was a list of addresses for families in hiding, but he can’t.

At the party, Percy and his men form the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, swearing to use their goods and abilities to help the innocent people of France. They also commit to doing whatever it takes to create dual identities for themselves, to throw Chauvelin and any spies far off their trail.

Percy kicks the party off loudly, making himself the center of attention. He quickly introduces Chauvelin to the PRINCE OF WALES, putting “Chauvy” on the spot and not leaving until he makes it as awkward for Chauvelin as possible. Percy is the life of the party, cracking jokes and laughing constantly. But it’s all an act. An act that is very hard for Percy to play. When no-one is looking, he’s just about in tears.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a wave that crashes across all of Europe. Everyone’s talking about him. Everyone’s asking questions, who is he? What is he? Why is he? Rescue after rescue, the talk of him grows. The rescues are becoming more and more daring. The more daring the rescues become, the more foppish Percy and his men become – which truly begins to confuse Marguerite. This is not the man she married. She confronts him, but he blows her off.

Percy and his men unite to rescue the Marceaus, large family that was recently condemned by the Committee of Surveillance. It’s a rescue that ends with Percy leading the family through the sewers of Paris by torchlight and doubting that he can continue doing this.

Fearing that the English royalty, in wanting to sever any ties with the French Revolution, will close down the English ports and cease all travel to France, Percy and his men recruit the Prince of Wales – not to be a part of the League, but to be part of their foppish circle. They need him encouraging their trips to France for “frou-frou.”

At a party Percy throws at his estate, he is reveling and having an absolutely wonderful time. But Marguerite is not amused. She pulls Percy aside and confronts him. He blows up at her, saying she has to accept the fact that they hardly knew each other when they married. The fact of the matter is, he’s feeling betrayed by her and doesn’t trust her, he just can’t tell her that. And when she looks at him, she sees a man who is 180 degrees away from the man she married. They part ways, both on the brink of tears. The prince, at dinner, asks “who is this blasted Pimpernel?” Percy, with a laugh and a flourish recites his little Pimpernel poem (“they seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in Heaven? Or is he in Hell? That demned elusive Pimpernel.”).

Llewellyn finds Marguerite crying in a pantry and comforts her. But Marguerite cannot stand the life that she has found herself in. So, in so many words, if Percy is going to “play this game,” she will too. She finds Chauvelin, who details to Marguerite why he’s in England. Marguerite decides to help Chauvelin discover who the Pimpernel is, as it will fill the need of purpose and excitement that is now missing in her life.

Percy notes to Marguerite that he noticed her and Chauvelin spending time together during the party. Marguerite hopes Percy’s jealous, but he’s not. At least, that’s how he’s acting.

Chauvelin reveals to his superiors that he knows who the Pimpernel is, but has to wait until the Pimpernel is back on French soil before he can arrest him. That, and he wants the Pimpernel to be absolutely devastated when he’s led to the guillotine, to believe that he was betrayed by his beloved.

Marguerite begins asking questions, trying to piece together who the Pimpernel is, but to little avail. Meanwhile, her marriage is just about in shambles. Percy and her are no longer sharing a bed.

Chauvelin makes it known to Percy and Armand that they’ve arrested every leader of every counter-revolutionist group in Paris. He revels in it.

Percy dashes out of the manor, not telling anyone where he’s going. Armand notices his absence and wonders what’s going on. He asks around, no-one knows. He finds Chauvelin drunk in the kitchen, who’s celebrating “the capture of the Scarlet Pimpernel.” He laughs at how Percy tried to fool everyone with his fop act, but he saw through it. Armand races out of the kitchen, in a blind panic . . . which is exactly what Chauvelin predicted.

Marguerite bumps into Percy in the hall, who has returned from Anthony’s, having calmed “Tony’s pre-wedding cold feet.”

Chauvelin announces that he’s leaving for France, as he has a date with the Scarlet Pimpernel. He expresses disappointment that he discovered who the Pimpernel was before Marguerite, being as obvious as it was. Marguerite is confounded. Chauvelin laughs, telling her it was her brother. “Of course it’s Armand!” he says. “It makes perfect sense!” This is what Chauvelin actually believes. He baited Armand with the lie that he believed Percy was the Pimpernel and that he was racing off to a trap.

Marguerite begs Percy for help in finding who the Pimpernel is. Percy laughs at her, asking why she would think he would know who he is. Marguerite insists it’s a matter of life or death. Percy reluctantly agrees to help. He’ll poke around at the engagement party tonight.

At the party, the Pimpernel meets Marguerite on the bridge in the back. He stays behind her the entire time, speaking with a thick Irish accent and pressing a knife to her throat. She tells him everything he wants to know. He asks about Armand, Chauvelin, and why he should trust her. He’s rough with her until she reveals the misunderstanding with the letter to the St Cyrs. Marguerite startles Percy as he’s leaving and he accidentally drops his knife and leaves it as he flees into the night. Percy finds his men in the party and tells them they must leave at dawn for France. Marguerite picks up the knife the Pimpernel dropped. It’s a letter opener and it has a large scarlet pimpernel on the hilt. Her jaw drops. She races into the party, screaming for Percy. But he’s gone.

She gets back to Blakeney Manor, but he’s not there either. She goes into his study and finds everything. Maps, notes, routes, and the very large picture of Percy’s father looking down on her, with the family crest at each corner – the scarlet pimpernel.

Percy and his men break into the Bastille to rescue Armand, but his cell is empty. It’s a trap that Percy, Farleigh, and Andrew find themselves caught in. Farleigh is shot dead, despite Percy trying to keep him from fighting.

In Versailles, Percy, Anthony, and Armand are tied to chairs. They sit before what remains of the Committee of Surveillance. Chauvelin is there. They get in a fight over who’s the Pimpernel, and Chauvelin says it doesn’t really matter, they have him, whoever he is. Just pick one. Then Marguerite appears, having taken a secret passage into the room and announces that she is the Scarlet Pimpernel. But then she shoots Tinville, and things get very, very serious.

Percy, Marguerite, Anthony, and Armand try to escape Versailles. They are separated when Chauvelin and Percy begin dueling. Marguerite, Anthony, and Armand run into a group of guards and a brawl breaks out. They fight their way out of Versailles but Percy isn’t so lucky. He’s stabbed in the back by Marat and finds himself captured all over again.

Percy finds himself in a stinking jail. He has resigned himself to the death that faces him the next day. Inasmuch he doesn’t want to die, he would much rather die for something than of something. Chauvelin comes in and the two share a moment of mutual respect and disdain.

The next morning, Percy is led to the guillotine. A large crowd has gathered to see the execution of this criminal. He is laid on the bed of the guillotine’s bed, only he’s laid on his back, that he might see the blade coming. Time seems to stop. The blade is released and begins to fall, but the blade never completes its fall. An explosion rocks the city centre and the guillotine blade is shattered by a cannonball that lodges itself into a townhouse, much to the embarrassment of the Prince of Wales, who is still holding the punk and standing over the cannon. Percy sits up as splinters from the guillotine rain down around him. The crowd disperses in a blind panic. Marguerite pushes her way through the crowd and climbs the scaffolding. She hugs Percy tight, they laugh, kiss passionately, and leap into the carriage Anthony’s driving and narrowly escape the French soldiers. The whole lot of them ride off into the horizon, catching The Day Dream back to England and no doubt for further adventures.

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