The Princess Bride – the Book and the Movie

It is hard to believe that the wonderful 1987 movie, “The Princess Bride”, was released 30 years ago this year, the movie is based on the 1973 book by the same name.  The story had everything – adventure, fantasy, comedy, an evil prince named Humperdinck and a love story between Westley and Buttercup.  In this post I will discuss both the book and movie.  I will also give a brief description of three of the beautiful dresses created for the character of Buttercup that were made by the famous British costume designer Phyllis Dalton.  Perhaps these dresses worn in The Princess Bride film could provide inspiration for a Renaissance themed wedding dress.

“The Princess Bride” Book Information

“The Princess Bride” author, William Goldman, presents the story as an abridged version of a tale originally told by S. Morgenstern.  This was a literary device used to enhance the telling of the story but Goldman originally made-up the story for his two daughters, one that requested a story about a princess and the other about a bride.  Goldman would later go on to adapt the story into a screenplay for the movie.

Possibly to generate publicity for the book, Goldman claimed that he had written a chapter about the reunion of Buttercup and Westley which was not used in the book; the missing chapter could be obtained upon request from the publisher.  Interestingly, many readers did write and subsequently received a letter stating that a copy of the chapter was unavailable for legal reasons because the fictional Morgenstern estate would not allow the release of the chapter in question.  (What a brilliant way to create additional interest while still keeping the ruse that Morgenstern wrote the original story!)

In “The Princess Bride” movie directed by Rob Reiner, the four principal leads are played by Robin Wright as Buttercup, Cary Elwes as Westley, Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdinck and Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya.  Other supporting actors include Peter Falk as the Grandpa with a very young Fred Savage as the Grandson, Andre the Giant is Fezzik, Wallace Shawn is Vizzini, Christopher Guest is Count Rugen and Peter Cook is the memorable priest at the wedding.  Billy Crystal makes a brief appearance as Miracle Max with his wife is played by Carol Kane.

“The Princess Bride” Movie Plot

The movie begins with a grandfather reading his ill grandson an adventure story and, much to the dread of the grandson, the story has a little bit of romance.  The story starts on a farm in the fictional country of Florin and centers on a young and beautiful girl named Buttercup and a handsome “farm boy” named Westley.  The strong-willed and selfish Buttercup frequently demands that Westley perform seemingly useless chores for her and he happily complies to the requests always with the response of “as you wish”.  Then one day Buttercup realizes that what he actually is telling her with his actions and words is “I love you”.  The confused Buttercup confesses that she loves him too and Westley decides that he must seek his fortune before they can be married and he set out to sea.  Sadly, Buttercup receives word that her beloved Westley has been killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts when he attacks the ship in which Westley is traveling on.  Buttercup falls into a deep melancholy after the loss and vows that she will “never love again”.

After a period of time the heir to the throne of Florin, Prince Humperdinck, is in need of a wife and of all the women in the land he chooses Buttercup.  She agrees to the marriage but is very clear that she does not love him.  But before the wedding can take place Buttercup is kidnapped by a trio of misfits – a Sicilian named Vizzini, a Spanaird named Inigo Montoya and a Turkish giant named Fezzik.  As they make their escape across the sea to the Cliffs of Insanity a mysterious man in black follows them.  Once he catches up to them he wins a fencing battle with Inigo, strikes Fezzik unconscious with a large boulder and in a wit of nerves he defeats Vizzini.  Then, as he captures Buttercup and he argues with her about how easily she found love with another man, she tells him that his remarks are unwarranted and she shoves him down a hill as he yells, “as you wish”.  Shocked that the man in black is her beloved Westley Buttercup tumbles down the hill after him!

Meanwhile, Prince Humperdinck sets out to rescue Buttercup and almost catches up to Westley and Buttercup but they escape into the Fire Swamp.  When they briefly stop battling “rodents of unusual size” and other perils of the swamp, Westley explains that when his ship was attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts he was taken prisoner, served as a crew member on board the pirate’s ship for years until he eventually assumed the role of the Dread Pirate Roberts at the request of the old pirate.

Meanwhile, it turns out that Prince Humperdinck was actually behind the kidnapping of Buttercup, he is not the kindhearted man that he wishes everyone to believe.  When Westley and Buttercup emerge on the other side of the swamp, Prince Humperdinck captures them.  Buttercup agrees to marry the Prince if he agrees to free Westley.  He returns to Florin with Buttercup but sends Westley to be tortured in “the Pit of Despair” by the cruel Count Rugen.  (In a strange coincidence it turns out that the Count is identified as the six-handed man that killed Inigo’s father many years earlier)

Thinking that she has guaranteed the safety of Westley, Buttercup is dreading her marriage to Prince Humperdinck.  Meanwhile Inigo and Fezzik rescue the paralyzed and “only half-dead” Westley and they take him to Miracle Max to have his health restored.  After receiving treatment, they set out for the castle to stop the wedding of Prince Humperdinck and Buttercup but they seem to have arrived too late.  As Westley goes in search of Buttercup, Inigo meets the Count and realizes that he is in fact the six-handed man, after a brief battle Inigo kills the Count to avenge the death of his father.  Finally, Westley finds Buttercup’s room and they are reunited but Prince Humperdinck suddenly appears to threaten Westley.  Just as the Prince believes he has gained the upper hand, Westley suddenly regains his strength and he challenges the Prince but Humperdinck proves himself a coward and runs away.  Luckily it turns out that the Prince and Buttercup were not officially pronounced man and wife and therefore not legally married.  So, in the end Westley, Buttercup, Inigo and Fezzik leave the castle to ride into the night and hopefully they get there happily ever after.

In the final scene, the grandfather finishes the story he is reading to his grandson and gets up to leave the room when the boy asks if his grandfather could please return the next day to read the book again the grandfather turns and says … “as you wish”.

Special Note:  Perhaps one of the most memorable and humorous scenes of the movie was the wedding.  The castle chapel is set for the ceremony and as the wedding starts the priest turns to the couple and utters these words – “Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togethew today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam. And wove, twue wove, wiww fowwow you fowevah and evah… So tweasuwe youw wove.”

The actor Peter Cook plays the priest in the film and he delivers an unforgettable performance by mispronouncing the R’s, W’s and L’s.  It is one of the funniest moments in the movie and needless to say, I’m sure many bridal couples have briefly contemplated replicating this infamous scene from The Princess Bride!!

The infamous wedding scene

“The Princess Bride” Movie Costumes

The Princess Bride costumes were designed by the well-known British costume designer Phyllis Dalton.  She had won two Academy Awards for Best Costume Design for her work for the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago and the 1989 film Henry V, and she also won an Emmy for Outstanding Costume Design for a Limited Series for the 1982 The Scarlet Pimpernel.  In regards to The Princess Bride, the film is set in a non-descript time period but Dalton’s costume designs are based on the style of the dresses worn during the Middle Ages.

The Red Dress

When Buttercup was kidnapped by Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo, she was wearing a red dress.  The design is based on a traditional outer garment from the Middle Ages known as a houppelande.  The long dress with a full skirt features a high piped collar, a pleated bodice, flared full sleeves that are tied at the wrists, a laced back and she also wears  an embellished gold fabric belt.  Initially Buttercup is riding in the countryside when she is abducted and she is shown wearing a golden beaded cap and brown riding gloves which obviously become lost during her ordeal.

Buttercup wearing the red dress in the kidnapping scene

The details of the sleeves  

The details of the back of the red dress (without the lace tie)

The Pink Dress

In the dream scene of the movie, Buttercup emerges from the castle to be introduced to the crowd as the future Princess of Florin.  The pink dress with long tapered sleeves that she is wearing over a plain white chemise features an empire bodice which is beautiful decorated with gold, pearl and crystal beading and embroidery.

Buttercup wearing the pink dress in the dream scene

The beautiful details of Buttercup’s pink dress and her rather large gold crown

 In another dream scene Buttercup wears the same dress with a beaded cap

The Wedding Dress

The dress worn by Buttercup at her wedding to Prince Humperdinck has a wonderfully detailed empire waist gown made from pale blue flocked velvet and the empire bodice is accented with beautiful pearl beadwork and embroidery, worn underneath the dress is a white chemise with more beadwork at the neckline.

Buttercup’s wedding dress on display
with the outfits of Inigo and Westley/the Dread Pirate Roberts

Although The Princess Bride is not set in a specified time period, in the Middle Ages young unmarried women would wear their long hair down.  This is how Buttercup wears her hair throughout the movie.  For her wedding to Humperdinck, Buttercup wears an intricately designed crown which features ivory colored flowers, leaves and pearls.

Westley and Buttercup

Special Note:  Robin Wright’s first acting job was in the NBC daytime soap opera “Santa Barbara”.  From 1984 to 1988 she played the role of Kelly Capwell, the quintessential “California girl” with her long wavy hair.  It is perhaps for this reason that she was cast into her first film in the role of Buttercup in The Princess Bride film because she had the perfect appearance to fit the look of a Medieval-period princess.