Published on September 20th, 2014 | by admin
The Musketeers Blu-ray Review
Distributor: BBC Roadshow
Genre: TV – Drama / Action
Running Time: 613 Minutes
Reviewer: Robert Mammone
As television production houses have engaged in a never ending search for ideas for new series, the plundering of classic adventure stories and tropes continues apace. Black Ships, Merlin, Robin Hood and Sherlock have all brought to a new generation of viewers updated re-tellings. A new series, filmed in the Czech Republic for the BBC, The Musketeers continues this trend with gusto and aplomb.
The creation of prolific French writer and national treasure, Alexandre Dumas, The Musketeers is set in the early years of the 17th century, as France struggles through the Thirty Years Wars. Dynastic intrigue, assassinations, plots and swashbuckling adventure are all a series hallmark. Central to the action are the Musketeers: Athos (Tom Burke), Porthos (Howard Charles), Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) tasked with protecting the King and Queen of France, as much against the machinations of external foes as the internal plotting of Cardinal Richelieu, menacingly played by Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who).
A fourth Musketeer, D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), appears on the scene in the first episode, seeking revenge for the death of his father at the hands of people he believes are Musketeers. Instead, he becomes entwined in a plot to bring down the regiment by the Cardinal, to further his own power and influence.
As the series progresses, more protagonists appear. Athos’s estranged wife, Milady De Winter (Maimie McCoy), is a memorable character; thief and assassin, she is the tip of the spear of the Cardinal’s efforts to bring down the Musketeers. Her story arc is possibly the most interesting of all the cast – there is very little black and white in her character, and her motivations spring from an understandable hate for what Athos did to her.
The central role Milady plays in the series demonstrates the strong roles available for the three main female characters in the series, which simply reflects the modern day story telling on offer. The Queen of France (Alexandra Dowling) is smarter and more able than her vacillating husband (Ryan Gage). Constance Bonaciex (Tamla Kari), who D’Artangan falls in love with, isn’t a simpering woman, but a brave, smart character who inspires by her pluck and determination.
While not really in keeping with historical reality of the place of women at this point in history, it nonetheless enables the show to reach out to a wider audience and gives the storytelling depth.
Each of the Musketeers are given the opportunity to shine during the series. We saw Athos as a somewhat tortured figure, bedevilled by thoughts of his absent wife. We gain a glimpse of Porthos’ upbringing amongst thieves and cutthroats, and the drive to escape and make something more of himself. Aramis, the playboy of the group, finds true love in an impossible place, the arms of the Queen herself. And D’Artagnan’s quest to avenge his father brings him amongst a people who will become lifelong friends.
But the true hero of the series is the action and locales. Filmed in the Czech Republic, the series comes to life in the gorgeous surrounds of lavish palaces and lush ornamental gardens. This grounds the series in the history of its setting, the very solidity of its surrounds helping breathe convincing life into the drama. And the action matches the pacing of the episodes – fast and furious and wonderfully realised. Each fight is a complex dance of swirling bodies and blades.
Muskets and pistols literally explode in great gouts of smoke, sending bodies tumbling acrobatically away. It’s a feast for the eyes that gets the heart pumping.
The real pleasure of the series, however, comes in the person of Peter Capaldi, as Cardinal Richelieu. Currently wowing the world as the Doctor in Doctor Who, Capaldi brings a snake like menace to the role.
At the centre of a nest of plots and conspiracies, Richelieu, like Milady De Winter, is not a truly evil figure – utterly ruthless and unsparing of himself, he works to protect France and grow its prestige. Anyone who gets in the way, even the Musketeers, risks his wrath and their lives if they get in his way.
In the end, this first series of The Musketeers offers a great deal of fun and excitement. Fast and sexy, full of dash and adventure, it’s perfect entertainment. With its locations, its action, and the winning performances of all the actors, The Musketeers offers memorable viewing for everyone.
Series rating: 4.5/5
Visuals 5/5 – The series is especially gorgeous in HD. The reality of the grime and filth comes to awful life, as did the intricate design work of the sets and costumes. The producers have worked hard to bring the series to visual life, with the direction bringing the viewer as close to the action as possible.
Audio 5/5 – clear as a bell.
Special features – overall 4.5/5
- Creating their World
This short feature looks at two aspects of the production process – writing the scripts while retaining enough history to give the series flavour without slavishly following the actual history. As it turns out, history is stranger than fiction. We also get a glimpse at set construction and set dressing. The amount of man hours involved is staggering, and you quickly gain an appreciation not only of the dedication of the behind the scenes people, but also where the majority of the budget goes. There’s a fascinating glimpse at how canny production staff made the most of the stunning vistas and buildings in and around Prague, where a majority of the filming took place. 4/5
- At the Boot Camp
It’s a Boy’s World as the four lead actors spend a week learning to horse ride, fight with fist and swords and generally engage in the sort of outdoorsy activities we all secretly crave. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in watching the leads pick up the rudiments of horse riding, and watching their joy at the experience. The real fun comes when they meet a team of sword masters, who take them through the exotic dance that is fencing with sabres. 5/5
- Leather, corsets and Swords
The costume designers get their chance to shine and its always a pleasure to listen to people doing a job they truly enjoy. We get to see the design work that goes into making the myriad period inspired costumes that both genders where. Of special interest to see is how the leatherwork comes about as the Musketeer’s costumes take shape.We also get a run through of various weapons (real and fake) used in the series. 4/5
- Saving Constance, their Finest HourWe are given a glimpse behind the finale to series one, a Western-inspired encounter where the Musketeers take on a cast of hundreds to win through and save D’Artangnan’s one true love. The stunt work is as intricately choreographed as any performance on So You Think You Can Dance. The way the director, the actors and the stuntmen work together to bring the scene to life is really very interesting, and seeing the rehearsed version against the real thing shows in great detail the ‘magic’ of television. 5/5