Sir Percy Blakeney poses as a fop in the entourage of the Prince of Wales, but secretly helps smuggle refugees from the Revolutionary Terror out of France, pitting his wits against Chauvelin. Originally conceived as a musical, but finally made as jokey period drama.
Behind the surface brilliance and dynamism of the film lurks a devastating portrait of a cynical, corrupt society, redeemed only by its eccentrics and a quixotic taste for adventure. And perhaps to the residue of the original plan for a musical, the film revels in its own delirious eccentricity - like the reeling game of Blind Man's Buff in which the camera becomes a player. With its combination of ravishing French and English landscapes and its homage to the world of Rex Ingram's silent swashbucklers in scenes like the coach race to Dover and the sacking of a Loire château, The Elusive Pimpernel shows Powell at the height of his powers as a visual stylist, synthesizing many traditions of cinema in an electric spectacle.
Ian Christie (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger: Arrows of Desire)