BBC’s The Musketeers just aired it’s third episode last night, and I feel like that’s a good enough sample size to gives some thoughts on the show. Being a huge musketeer fan, and a swashbuckler writer myself, I feel the need to weigh in a little… even if no one else gives a fig of my opinion. 🙂
Back last May BBC released their teaser images for The Musketeers and I was fairly disappointed. BBC put out the most accurate book-to-film version of The Three Musketeers ever (Brian Blessed is Porthos) and I was hoping to get that again this time around with the BBC. But the image dashed all hopes of that. Instead of great, historical accurate doublets, hats and breeches, we get what looks like to be a mix of eras — pirate, American Civil War, Old West, etc. — and pointless, but flashy shoulder armor. When a company doesn’t bother to do the costumes accurate, you can sure as hell expect them not to try to do the book either.
And they didn’t. And as much as I’m super disappointed it’s not a book adaption, The Musketeers is actually pretty goddamn good and entertaining.
Obviously, BBC threw out Dumas’ original novel for this show and the series was maybe shown a picture of a picture of The Three Musketeers, but they do plenty of things right. They really do the sense of adventure and camaraderie well between the Inseparables. The keep Porthos as the strong “brute” of the group and Aramis is a bit religious (albeit, not as much as in the novels), and Athos is still drunk and brooding.
But if you were looking for or hoping for an honest book/film translation you’ll be sorely disappointed. That’s not what The Musketeers is and never promised. So if that’s a deal breaker for you, don’t watch the show. However, if you can put that prejudice aside and just look at the show for what it is — a more action-heavy mission-centric drama — than you may find it more enjoyable.
The casting is also great. Santiago Cabrera as Aramis is fantastic, as is Howard Charles as Porthos. They have great chemistry on screen together. Luke Pasqualino isn’t a bad d’Artagnan, but he’s no Gene Kelly either. He’s passable and a competent d’Artagnan. Future Doctor, Pete Capaldi is a great Cardinal Richelieu. You can feel the cunning, intelligence, and power from his in every scene. It’s also nice to see Richeliu portrayed as someone not trying to overthrow or undermine the king, but one who’s looking out for Frances (and his own) best interest. My only real issue is Tom Burke as Athos. Not that Burke is a bad Athos, but I like my Athoses (is that the plural for Athos?) to at least look a little older than the rest of the gang, like he is in the books. Alas, Porthos looks the oldest of the musketeers, though not by much.
Side Note: There is no Rochefort, which is some grade-A bullshit. How do you not have d’Artagnan’s nemesis in this show? Probably the biggest mistake the series has made since the awful costuming job. Maybe he’ll be introduced later, but I’m doubtful. He’s a major player and you don’t let a character like that come in late to the party, unless there’s a second season and he’ll be the main villain.
As for the leading ladies, they’re also well cast. Tamla Kari is an adorable Constance who’s probably a more well developed character in this series than in Dumas’ book. She’s not passive or aloof (sorry, Raquel Welch), but has several brain cells strung together and plays important roles in a couple of the episodes so far. Meanwhile, Maimie McCoy is both beautiful and deadly, exactly what you want in your Milady. She plays the femme fatale role fair well in her limited screen time. That’ll change soon, I’m sure… or, at least, hope.
It’s also cool to see the cast not being 100% white (guess what, folks, not everyone in France in 17th Century was white) and that the script reflects that to a degree. Charles’ Porthos is half-black in the show and that plays a role in the third episode when he finds out one of the other characters is a slave trader, though BBC does pull some punches near the end when it comes to that aspect of the episode. It was borderline “After School Special” in a few scenes, but nothing too bad. It’s nice to see a mix of background in the cast and that get worked into the script and not ignored like this particular universe is super OK with diversity.
There’s no sense of foppishness from any of the musketeers. They’re much more soldiers than low noblemen. Things are dirtier and grittier with this cast of characters.
As I’ve said before, the costuming is a bit of a disaster. Everyone’s wearing a ton of leather because leather is cool, right? It’s not that leather wasn’t worn then — buff coats were very practical and stylish — it’s just that their leather coats aren’t from this era. The hats are also weird. It’s not cavalier-like, but a mix of a few time periods, including the American Civil War and Old West. The shoulder armor, although well constructed and cool looking, is pointless really. Yes, I’m going to protect only my sword arm and nothing else because reasons…
Constance is also always walking around town in her undergarments. I think we’ve seen her only once in a proper dress. Not every bodice is meant to be seen, and poor Constance looks like she’s only ever half-dressed in the eps. Meanwhile, Milady is wearing all sorts of rich colored outfits and fabrics, though, like the boys, I’m not sure what era her outfits are supposed to be from. It makes for interesting juxtaposition but can we let Constance outside with real clothes for once?
The “tabards” are also bland. They’re actually not tabards at all, but historically accurate cassocks from the time, and they look great, but there’s no sign of that classic Musketeer cross anywhere to be seen. *sigh*
The weapons are pretty gorgeous, though, and sometimes they even hold a wheellock pistol correctly! I’m actually pretty excited about that bit… holding wheellocks sideways kept the gears settled right and lessened the chance of something going wrong when firing… sure it looks gangsta but it’s actually historically accurate. Don’t do that with a flintlock, though…
The first episode was so-so. I was really hoping they’d keep how d’Artagnan meets the musketeers accurate, but they didn’t. What they did was fine, but I was kinda annoyed that d’Artagnan wasn’t a better swordsman in that scene. Not sure if it was poor fight acting or just how it was written in the script, but his fighting didn’t seem to inspire confidence or interested from Athos, Aramis and Porthos. They were more annoyed by him than anything else. That kinda irked me.
Second episode was better. It had a Guy Fawkes meets Ocean’s 11 feel to it. D’Artganan goes undercover to uncover a plot to kill the king… only the king ends up not being the main target. Womp womp. It ends with a cool sword fight by torchlight.
Third episode was the most interesting so far. Porthos gets injured in a skirmish during and the musketeers are forced to stop off at Athos’ estate. Athos gets really moody and drunk (like he does) and I wonder how he didn’t die of alcohol poisoning in that episode. Anyways, James Callis plays a flamboyant and charming French merchant/trader who’s in some trouble for breaking a trade pact between France/Spain. My only issue is I really wanted Porthos to be a little more menacing toward Callis’ character at the end. Small problem, though.
The script writing is pretty solid if you’re not hoping or expecting the novel. It’s a bit formulaic — musketeers on the mission-of-the-day — but it works. It’s simple and episodic for the most part. There hasn’t been an overarching plot to this show. The dialogue doesn’t sound like crap, and there’s a lot of fun exchanges and one-liners in the show, especially coming from Porthos and Aramis. The exchanges between those two are also usually comedy gold. It’s not a comedy show but doesn’t mean there can’t have funny moments.
An important aspect of any musketeer film is the fights! The fight work in the first episode were bland. Not sure if the choreo was just bad or if it was not shot well, or maybe the actors were still not sure how to use a sword, but something didn’t click, especially with d’Artganan. That felt better in the second and third episodes, though. The fight choreographer for The Musketeers, Roman Spacil, has worked on other musketeer productions, so this isn’t his first rodeo… though not sure if having the recent Three Musketeer movie (aka Steampunketeers) is a great for one’s resume…
I am, however, annoyed by the poor physics of firing the black powder weapons and being hit by one of their shots. In the first episode, if you got shot by a pistol you would go flying backwards. I know accuracy isn’t a concern for this production, but at least try to adhere to things proved right/wrong by the Mythbusters. I didn’t notice the bad wirework in the second and third episode, so maybe they dropped that habit right away. We can only hope.
I own a ton of bad musketeer movies and mini-series and The Musketeers doesn’t come close to being the worst one. I’ll leave that for French supernatural version, The 4 Musketeers. It’s MST3K worthy.
It’s a solid action-show that’s looking to capture a modern audience with it’s take on the musketeers. Again, if you’re a die-hard “It must be like the book!” person you’re going to hate The Musketeers but if you’re ok with them taking liberties for the sake of modern television you’ll find it more entertaining.
As for me, I’m just glad to see swashbucklers make it back on TV. Between The Musketeers on BBC, Black Sails on Starz (review coming later), and Crossbones airing on NBC starting this summer, an Alatriste series being produced in Spain, sword wielding is becoming a thing again. And as a lover of the genre, and a writer of the genre, I’m stoked for it and hope it succeeds, so we can see more sword fights on primetime.
Did I say quick thoughts? Oh well…