The Prisoner of Zenda (1979 film)

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The Prisoner of Zenda
Prisoner of zenda.jpg
original film poster
Directed by Richard Quine
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Written by Dick Clement
Ian La Frenais
Starring Peter Sellers
Lynne Frederick
Lionel Jeffries
Elke Sommer
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • May 25, 1979 (1979-05-25)
Running time
108 minutes
Language English

The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1979 American comedy film directed by Richard Quine and adapted from the adventure novel by Anthony Hope, first published in 1894. The novel tells the story of a man who has to impersonate a king, whom he happens to closely resemble, when the king is abducted by enemies on the eve of his coronation. An earlier adaptation of the story was made into a film in 1952 starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger, and directed by Richard Thorpe.

The comedy was loosely adapted by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. It starred Peter Sellers, Lynne Frederick, Lionel Jeffries, Elke Sommer, Gregory Sierra, Jeremy Kemp and Catherine Schell. It has echoes of not only Hope's book but also several other well-known novels, especially Dumas's The Man in the Iron Mask. Sellers plays three roles: that of the Ruthenian King Rudolph V and the London cab driver Sydney Frewin who is brought in to portray the missing King with whom he shares an uncanny resemblance. Sellers also portrayed the aged King Rudoph IV at the start of the film, before he is killed in a hot air balloon accident.

The score by Henry Mancini was a highlight of the film and gained some critical acclaim. It was also Quine's final film as director before dying in 1989.[1]


King Rudolf IV (Sellers) dies in a balloon accident upon the celebration of his seventieth birthday. In order to secure the throne, General Sapt and his nephew Fritz travel to London, where the King's son, Rudolf V (Sellers), resides and lives through the day in London's pleasure establishments; but the King's demented half-brother Michael (Kemp), thinking that he is the better claimant, sends an assassin after them. Hansom cab driver Sydney (or Sidney) Frewin (Sellers), the new King's half-brother from an affair with a British actress, rescues Rudolf from an assassination attempt. Once his resemblance to the King is noticed, Frewin is hired by the general ostensibly as the King's coachman, but actually to play the role of decoy. The ruse is quickly uncovered, however, when during an attack by Michael's men the royal guardsmen address Frewin as their new king, and the two look-alikes get acquainted.

In an unattended moment, Rudolf is captured and brought to Michael's castle of Zenda. Out of necessity, Frewin has to keep masquerading as the King for the coronation ceremony. Princess Flavia, Rudolf's fiancée (Frederick), is perceptive enough to see through the ruse, and after Frewin and the general have confided in her, she quickly becomes Frewin's trusted ally and love interest. Complicating the scheme on Frewin's side is the jealous Count Montparnasse whose wife (Sommer) has become infatuated with Rudolf, and on Michael's side by his mistress, Antoinette, who is wildly jealous about the prospect of Michael marrying Flavia and in turn is the love interest of the slightly unbalanced Rupert von Henzau, Michael's second-in-command.

After several assassination attempts, Michael attempts to lure Frewin into a trap. While the trap fails, Frewin, acting as Henzau's coach driver, is recognized and captured upon arrival in Zenda. Frewin and Rudolf escape with Antoinette's and Henzau's help, just as Sapt and his men arrive at the castle. Henzau rides away, telling Sapt to tell the King that he (Henzau) will report next week. Michael and his men attempt to capture Rudolf and Frewin, but they jump off the battlements into the moat. Sapt has Michael arrested for his treachery. Assuming Frewin's identity, Rudolf pursues his interests in the countess and the London gambling tables, while Frewin marries Princess Flavia.



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