Monday, 14 February 2011
The Princess Bride
Before we begin, it’s only fair that I state for the record that The Princess Bride is my favourite film of all time. I know it’s not the best film ever. But along with Withnail and I it’s the film I have watched more than any other. It reminds me of my childhood. It’s filled with characters who I adore, lines I quote endlessly and scenes that I will never tire of watching. Every detail sings to me – from the casting of one of my childhood heroes as Fezzick to the He-Man figures on display in Fred Savage’s bedroom. It’s a film I relate to and one which I’ve grown up with.
Recently I’ve been teaching Year 8 kids about the language of film reviewing and it was to The Princess Bride that I immediately turned. I was surprised to find that nobody in my class had seen it – but less surprised when they all loved it. And after asking them to write a review of their own, I thought it only fair that I follow suit…
In the land of Florin, Buttercup and her farmhand Westley fall deeply in love. Seeking the fortune he needs to marry her, Westley sets out to sea where he is captured by the notorious Dread Pirate Roberts – who never leaves survivors.
Five years later, the arrogant Prince Humperdinck chooses Buttercup for his bride – much to her disgust. On the eve of her enforced marriage the princess-to-be is captured by a motley trio as part of a war-mongering plot. But they hadn’t reckoned on the interference of the mysterious Man In Black – a shadowy figure hell bent on capturing what they have rightfully stolen.
Opening with a sick child (a very young Fred Savage) being visited by his grandfather (Peter Falk) he’s appalled to discover that his intention is to read him a story. The arrival of his grandfather is greeted with a weariness familiar to anyone with a cringe-inducing relative (all of us, surely?). The wonderful Falk dismisses his concerns by telling him “when I was your age television was called books” and so begins one of the greatest fairytales ever told. The grandchild’s cynicism is an excellent plot device as Savage’s sniping punctuates some of the sickeningly romantic aspects Buttercup and Westley’s romance – although these interruptions become less frequent as the pace of the film increases.
The introduction of Buttercup’s abductors is where The Princess Bride really comes to life. The ‘brains’ of the bunch is Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a lisping Sicilian midget who may or may not know what the word ‘inconceivable’ means. He’s joined by swarthy Spaniard Inigo (Mandy Patinkin), a swordsman hell bent on revenging the death of his father at the hands of a six-fingered man and Fezzik (wrestling’s Andre The Giant), a dim-witted behemoth with a heart of gold.
They’re a magical bunch. Physically they look great together, and their supposedly complementary skills – brains, brawn and steel – ought to be no match for the pursuing Man In Black. They face him one-on-one in some beautifully choreographed and supremely witty showdowns where the sense of fair play and camaraderie is both touching and heart-warming: it’s impossible not to fall for the flawed heroes.
The film is a veritable ‘who’s who’ of comic talent with hilarious cameos from the likes of Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, Peter Cook as an incompetent priest and Mel Smith as a tree-dwelling Albino. The minor characters in the ensemble are vital in creating the fantastical world of the film and each performs admirably.
The lesser characters are not the only ones who are superbly cast. Cary Elwes is excellent as the dashing hero (there’s more than a dash of Errol Flynn about his performance), Robin Wright gives an assured debut as the headstrong Buttercup and the likes of Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest are clearly having a whale of a time as the smug prince and his evil henchman, Count Rugen.
Perhaps the element of the film which rewards repeat viewing most obviously is the witty script. Whilst younger members of the audience will love the monsters, swordplay and miracles, older viewers will love the relish with which the actors attack their clever (and often very grown-up lines). It’s long been accepted practice that children’s films contain enough double-entendres and subtle adult gags to keep accompanying adults in the audience happy – it would be easy to argue that it’s a practice which began with The Princess Bride. Irreverent, satirical, sharp and biting, William Goldman’s script (from his own source material) has it all.
Ultimately, the plot is quite flimsy and a little predictable. But The Princess Bride contains enough brilliantly drawn characters, belly laughs, fabulous scenes and witty asides to remain thoroughly watchable over twenty years after its release. It’s a magical, nostalgic and rich film which rewards repeat viewings and will forever remain a classic of its genre.