The Prisoner of Zenda (1979 film)

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The Prisoner of Zenda
Prisoner of zenda.jpg
original film poster
Directed byRichard Quine
Produced byWalter Mirisch
Written byDick Clement
Ian La Frenais
StarringPeter Sellers
Lynne Frederick
Lionel Jeffries
Elke Sommer
Music byHenry Mancini
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • May 25, 1979 (1979-05-25) (Los Angeles, USA)
Running time
108 minutes

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]


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 help, and when Sapt and his men arrive at the castle, Henzau switches sides and aids Frewin and Rudolf against Michael, opens the castle gates and rides away, telling Sapt that he will report for duty next week. Michael and his men attempt to capture Rudolf and Frewin, but they jump off the battlements into the moat, and 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 and becomes king of Ruritania.


Critical reception[edit]

Time Out called it "A limp and shoddy farce in which neither Sellers' lifeless double-role mugging, nor a dire fish-out-of-water script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, encourage anything more than a deepening nostalgia for the straightfaced swashbuckling of previous adaptations";[4] whereas in The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Mr. Sellers is onscreen with himself surprisingly often, and the effect never looks trumped-up. He performs a perfect balancing act, orchestrated so well that the funny character makes the serious one even more effective, and vice versa. "The Prisoner of Zenda" doesn't have the kind of finesse that Blake Edwards's direction has given the 'Pink Panther' series. But the slack moments are painless enough, and they come as a fair exchange for the pleasure of Mr. Seller's artfully schhizoid company."[5]


  1. ^ "Prisoner of Zenda, The (1979) - Misc Notes -". Turner Classic Movies.
  2. ^ "The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies.
  3. ^ "One Hundred Unreleased Scores".
  4. ^ "The Prisoner of Zenda".
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (May 25, 1979). "Screen: Sellers in New 'Zenda'". The New York Times. p. 4.

External links[edit]