Since cinema’s silent era, the characters at the heart of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling tale of French Musketeers have been permanently ingrained on the screen; both large and small. Most recently it was Paul W. S. Anderson’s bold, brash and (by the end) just plain bad cinematic effort, which replaced the beating heart of Dumas’ prose with airships and one-to-many explosions, that blew a barrel-sized hole in d’Artagnan’s legend; oh how we yearned for Richard Lester’s 70s classic.
A reinvention on the BBC doesn’t initially strike one as the antidote to the sour taste left by Anderson’s mess. Previous attempts by the BBC to serialize historically set tales have failed to capture the magic of previous incarnations; Merlin was too unbalanced, Robin Hood too ridiculous. Like its eponymous quartet however, The Musketeers is a committed and courageous tale, admirably focused on the characters that drove Dumas’ story; a grand, old-fashioned romp that gleefully melds brains with excitement.
The show’s greatest achievement is creator Adrian Hodges’ decision to flesh out the central narrative, give the audience time to know their company and thus allow this Musketeers to let its episodic structure be driven by well-drawn characters. Of course, at their heart Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan are decent fellows, loyal to their cause and to each other. Look under their tunics though, and you find a group of men whose distinctive vices further complicate their already dangerous lives.
The performances have, so far, proved to be universally great. Luke Pasqualino, Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera and Howard Charles pay creed to the Musketeer’s motto of ‘all for one, one for all’; their brotherly affection for each other underpinned by the endless banter they wittily aim at each other. However, while they are always fantastic company as an ensemble, each actor does sterling work to make their character distinctively different from the others. Burke, in particular, manages to bring both poignancy and intensity to Athos during the show’s quieter moments, further deepening our emotional attachment towards him.
Peter Capaldi is the casting masterstroke that gives the show its deliciously evil edge. His reptilian eyes and sardonic smiles complement Cardinal Richelieu’s decidedly devious dealings, making him a joyfully hissable foil for our heroes. This battle of wits between Richelieu, his seductive partner Milady (an excellent Maimie McCoy) and our sword-swishing heroes form the backbone to Hodges’ adaptation, but the story is full of adversaries trying to thwart the Musketeer’s honorable intentions. Best of the bunch so far is Jason Flemyng, whose 17th century terrorist/thief perfectly accentuated the shows canny ability to both entertain and thrill.
Only 3 episodes in and The Musketeers has already proved its prowess to be both intelligent and charming Sunday night entertainment. Sharply written and deftly acted, it’s an unashamed historical romp that is guaranteed to leave your buckles well and truly swashed.