I’d like to rectify something I said about the BBC’s new barnburner of a series in a previous article. Upon a re-watch I’ve come to the conclusion that my statement – “… The Musketeers dances the thin line between serious drama and Atlantis-style entertainment before toppling into the latter” – isn’t quite so true. While The Musketeers might dip its foot into camp waters now and then, it maintains an earnestness that means the series warrants the primetime Sunday evening slot (although a couple of tonal changes could make it suitable for Saturday nights, perhaps after The Voice). Peter Capaldi’s calculating and downright manipulative Cardinal Richelieu is a particularly nasty baddie – his unfeeling expression when he forces a lady friend out into a snow-kissed field to only be shot is both a low point and a high point.
The Musketeers themselves were given impressive openings – Athos’ pail-dunking wake-me-up was both amusing and understated; Porthos’ toasting fork duel too set him up as a capable man and a joker; Aramis’ racy introduction was one of my favourites, making the rather cheeky member hugely likeable but it was D’Artagnan’s bereavement that caught my eye the most. What an opening, though. Poor D’Artagnan insisted that he and his dad stopped off for the night at a lowly inn but before they’d even unpacked it was bye, bye D’Artagnan Sr. Thankfully things took a turn for the better and by the denouement he had a family of sorts and a job of sorts.
Hugo Speer’s Captain Treville is a likeable enough mentor figure – but it appears he’ll be the bloke who gives them weekly missions in which he doesn’t ever feature. Much of his dialogue is oddly anachronistic, “you three, my office now” feels distinctly jarring but while The Musketeers’ script fails in dishing out the historic charm, the sets definitely make up for it.
The production values of The Musketeers are up there with the mammoth Christmas period dramas. The sets feel distinctly foreign (admittedly a lot of it was filmed in the Czech Republic) and it’s got that rather glamorous mud-hole feel; in seventeenth century streets if you were to put a foot wrong it’d be in faeces but the BBC – and ITV – are typically guilty of glossing over the lows of bygone Paris.
The Musketeers is pregnant with potential: there are jaunty wide-rim hats, lots of gorgeous, occasionally gun-toting women, four hugely watchable leads, a superbly played gimlet-eyed villain (after ten weeks of capes and Roger Delgado-esque facial hair, it’ll be hard to see Peter Capaldi as our supposedly affable Time Lord) as well as lots of swords and flintlock pistols. If you swash isn’t suitably buckled by closing time then this obviously isn’t the thing for you.
Contributed by Patrick Sproull
The Musketeers Continues Sunday’s at 9.00pm on BBC ONE