There are some stories that are so well known and so well loved that adapting them for a screen, either large or small, is taking a risk. The purists will be frustrated by the changes; people new to the story may not grasp why it is so beloved.
Let me begin at the beginning by saying that I have never read Dumas’s novel. But, as with so many other stories, this one has become so much a part of the collective consciousness that I feel as if I have. I know the characters and I know the basic plot.
Which is the first thing this pilot did well. We are quickly introduced to the main players, expected to know basically who they are and what role they will play in the drama. The writer, Adrian Hodges, is able to pace the pilot accordingly and give us what we all tuned in to see.
What I want from a version of The Musketeers is swashbuckling fun. I want sword fights, big hats with feathers, kings and queens, romance, a bit of drama, and a few laugh out loud moments. This pilot hit every one of those notes.
It goes without saying that any drama will succeed or fail on its actors, no matter how well written or filmed. Unsurprisingly, the BBC found superb actors for every one of the major roles. All of them managed to imbue his or her character with subtle moments that gave each a personality. These are not just musketeers; they are individuals who have chosen this life. Each has issues; each is proud of what he does; each is extremely easy to look at.
Athos (Tom Burke) drinks too much, mourning a lost love whom he may have murdered. He is the obvious leader of the group, yet respects his colleagues enormously. Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) is the ladies man, sleeping with the Cardinal’s mistress. My favorite of the three is Porthos (Howard Charles). A man with a gambling problem, he has a sly sense of humor that made me laugh often.
These three are all under the command of Treville (Hugo Speer) who has issues and an agenda of his own. There is a brilliant scene, rather near the beginning of the episode, that shows us exactly who he is. He tells King Louis that he has never lied to him and never will. The Cardinal tries to trip him up and Treville lies. What is telling, however, is that he lies to the Cardinal, not the king. His honor is intact.
As good as these four are, the entire construct would fail without a strong D’Artagnan. Luke Pasqualino has the unenviable task of bringing an incredibly complex character to life without making him a parody. Mission accomplished. D’Artagnan is hellbent on revenge, yet he is also young, impulsive, and horny. He is very capable with a sword, a musket, and his fists — all of which he uses in the cold open.
With more than a passing nod to any good rom-com, D’Artagnan and Constance (Tamla Kari) have a meet-cute that made me invest in them as a couple immediately. As she is married, I am very interested to see where this romance goes as infidelity is not something that is often portrayed in a good light. Nor, should it be.
You can’t have heroes without villains. Peter Capaldi plays Cardinal Richelieu to perfection. He is power hungry and cunning, dispatching anyone who stands in his way without blinking. Capaldi plays the scene where the Cardinal has his mistress killed with incredible subtlety. On the one hand, the ruthlessness of the task is evident, yet there is a sadness on his face as she dies.
There is a side to all of the Cardinal’s plotting and planning that makes sense. Frankly, someone has to run the country because King Louis XIII (Ryan Gage) is not up to the task. His queen, Anne, (Alexandra Dowling) seems much more capable.
Milady de Winter (Maimie McCoy) is another perfect villain. Although we don’t spend a lot of time with her in the pilot, it is clear that she can go toe to toe with the Cardinal and more than hold her own. Not above using her sexuality to further her agenda, she sleeps with D’Artagnan and, we learn in the final reveal of the episode, is the woman whom Athos is mourning. What a great set-up for further complications down the road.
Which leads me to the strongest aspect of this episode and the reason I fell in love with it so quickly. The women are wonderfully drawn characters and are not just there to show us their breasts as they sleep with our heroes. Constance, Queen Anne, and Milady are all complex women, with minds and abilities of their own. The men treat these women as people, not simply as sexual conquests — a refreshing change.
My only quibble with the pilot, and it is a small one, is that the story was a tad perfunctory. Missing letters, a missing musketeer, and a bad guy who is setting up the good guy on behalf of our big bad. The tension level is not that high as there is no way Athos will die in the pilot. I’m more than willing to overlook this problem, however, as the main point of the pilot is to introduce us to the characters with whom we will spend the next ten weeks. In that, this episode was a rousing success.
It is rare that I become so invested in a show so quickly, but this one pulled me in immediately. Three and a half out of four Spanish doubloons.
The series is filmed in Prague that, combined with a touch of CGI, does an excellent job of standing in for the France of 1630.
The tension between the Musketeers (the King’s army) and the Red Guard (the Cardinal’s army) is interesting as both have the same basic purpose.
The score is magnificent.
King Louis: “[The birds] are born to be shot, like rabbits and poets.”
Cardinal: “A great king must be seen to be fair. He cannot have favorites.”
King Louis: “Unless it’s you, you mean.”
D’Artagnan: “Prepare to fight. One of us dies here.”
Porthos: “Now, that’s the way to make an entrance.”
Cardinal: “Our plan did not include the murder of the Spanish traitor, Mendoza. He was still useful to me.”
Milady: “He was a bad lover and a terrible bore.”
Aramis: “You come to Paris to kill Athos and end up saving his life. After a few drinks, I’m sure he’ll appreciate the irony.”
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.
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