History fascinates me. Not the dates, not so much the politics (though that can be often very interesting, too), but society, culture. How people lived, and how—if you really think about it—mankind hasn’t, fundamentally, changed too much over the past few millennia.
Look at The Fall of the Roman Empire, for instance: a tale of a dying emperor, realizing that his own son—the heir to the throne—is too debauched, too fond of gladiators and wine, to ever be able to fulfill the dying man’s dream of a united Roman Empire. What ensues—as a seeming upstart is nominated successor, as jealousy and hatred arise where there had been camaraderie and boisterous affection—could be true of anything happening today.
The French Revolution’s been the setting for a handful of films, but I’ve got to admit I don’t much care for everything that’s been produced. For instance, A Tale of Two Cities—despite starring Dirk Bogarde—has too sad an end to invite repeated watching. The Scarlet Pimpernel, though definitely more entertaining, stars Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, neither of whom tops my favourites list.
Scaramouche, with an oh-so-ooohh Stewart Granger in the title role, some absolutely unbeatable swordplay, lots of wit (plus two beautiful heroines), therefore wins hands down. You may not learn much about the French Revolution, but entertainment’s guaranteed.