The Princess Bride
d. Rob Reiner / 1987 / USA / 98 mins
William Goldman has stated many times that if there was one title that would be etched on his tombstone it would be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but for many The Princess Bride will remain his most famous and beloved film, no small feat considering it has healthy competition from his other works including A Bridge too Far and All the President’s Men. Based on his own novel and directed by Rob Reiner (fresh out of both Spinal Tap and Stand By Me), The Princess Bride is a tale of high adventure and true love told by a grandfather to his sickly grandson.
For all intents and purposes, The Princess Bride should be a slight film. It has a modest budget and is undeniably anachronistic. Many may be confused as to why this film about the young farm-boy named Westley saving his love Buttercup from the dastardly Prince Humperdink is so highly regarded. It would be easy to dismiss the film as outdated cliché but whereas films like Stardust take great pains to tout their post-modern status, revisionary attitude and individuality, Goldman handles his film with far more deftness. There is nothing malicious or pompous in its attempt to revise the fairy tale, it pushes the boundaries of the genre through its inquisitive intelligence but never goes so far as to deny or ridicule its roots. It is unashamedly classical at the same time as incorporating modern nuances. Goldman has not only created a film that exposes the bones of fairy-tale fiction but also perfects them. Considering it may have one of the most accomplished scripts fantasy fiction has seen, it remains modest and spends its efforts on building upon the strengths of its characters. It could be dismissed as a slight fantasy parody, but such a presumption would quickly be proven wrong.
The twining of a classical score and Mark Knoplfler’s musical accompaniment gives the film a foothold in not only the present, but also the past although it’s the cast who really excel and bring the wit of the script to life. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright give surprisingly solid performances as the leads but it is Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya who truly steals the show and arrests our attentions with his charismatic delivery. Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest are both perfectly cast as the inscrutable Prince Humperdink and six fingered Count Rugen whilst Billy Crystal and Peter Cook both give wonderful cameos. Peter Falk (best known as Columbo) manages to embody the spirit of the movie though his portrayal of the curmudgeonly, albeit heartfelt grandfather with a knowing twinkle in his eye.
This film is a heart warming delight that continues to enrapture audiences both young and old. It is a fairy tale written by a master storyteller and directed by a man who had already proven himself more than capable of balancing the fine line between reality and parody. I cannot name a single other film that shows its intelligence with such a lack of pretension. Ignore the fact that it doesn’t pander to its viewer with sensational effects and set pieces, if its knowing and well intended humour doesn’t manage to win your affections, its heart and love for its characters surely will.