The film is, of course, set in the 1790's, during the French Revolution, with the action switching back and forth over the Channel between England and France. The French Revolution is well underway, with all it's fanaticism and bloody excesses. Eventually, the madness will grow to be so great that the citizens of the new republic will not be content with executing the hated aristocrats; "moderate" revolutionaries like Danton are the next to be condemned and sent to the guillotine. Even Robespierre himself will end up under the blade of "the national razor", a victim of the same ghastly fate to which he had condemned so many others. "The Scarlet Pimpernel" naturally takes a dim view of this behaviour, its sympathies clearly lying with the beleaguered aristocrats. Which is not to suggest that the aristocracy in France was blameless... their treatment of the lower classes was indefensible. The Bastille at the time it was overthrown, contained many prisoners who had committed no crime other than irritating or inconveniencing those in positions of power. De Tournay addresses this to a degree, saying that he and his fellow blue bloods have been too detached from the real world- blind to their own folly- which has caused the Revolution. This is a little too kind, I feel; in many cases, the aristocrats were perpetrating the injustices upon those beneath them, which certainly goes beyond detachment.
Now, I'm not unsympathetic with the aims of the French Revolution... many of them, anyway. I'm all for people getting rid of an unjust, corrupt government- ideally, at the ballot box. But if you are denied that, more radical means become necessary. Unfortunately, the French chose the wrong methods with which to wage their revolution.
So, if you enjoy an adventure movie which has drama and humour, great characters and witty dialogue, track down "that elusive Pimpernel".You won't regret it.
* In 1941, Leslie Howard starred in a movie called "Pimpernel Smith" about a man who rescues people from German concentration camps.
* The poem which Percy quotes to Chauvelin near the end of the movie is from Shakespeare's play "King Richard II" :
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,--
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.