The Musketeers, episode 1, BBC One, review

The first episode of the BBC adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers is enjoyable revisionist pulp fiction, says Mark Monahan 

Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), Athos (Tom Burke) and Porthos (Howard Charles)

Cleavage, firearms, swordplay, leather jerkins, grubby hostelries, chickens flapping around in streets – and more cleavage. What else, frankly, do you need to create an entertaining telly rendering of Alexandre Dumas’s famous novel The Three Musketeers?
Well, you need a plot for one thing, in which respect the first, self-contained episode of writer-director Adrian Hodges’s new 10-parter The Musketeers (BBC One) wasn’t at all bad. It began with a 007-style pre-credits “teaser” in which we saw a middle-aged man introduce himself as Alexander d’Artagnan (middle-aged?), only to be blasted to kingdom come by a younger type who had introduced himself as Athos (eh?!).
I wonder if this opening, beyond being instantly wrong-footing, was also a subtler kind of mission statement. The fellow in question turned out to be the celebrated character’s father, hence his age – but d’Artagnan senior is not, to my knowledge, given a Christian name in the book, still less killed in its opening pages. By giving him the name of the novel’s author and despatching him instantly, was Hodges signalling his intentions?
It would make sense. For although he has dutifully preserved the setting (Paris, early 1600s) and the key players, he appears to have jettisoned everything else. Dumas would have recognised next to nothing of last night’s plot, and may have been similarly astonished to see the sort of antics (drunkenness, card-sharping, adultery) that his noble trio of King’s guards were up to.
Purists must have been weeping into their leather-bound volumes, and indeed I’d have joined them in objecting to a landlady bidding d’Artagnan junior to “enjoy!”. While making no claims for it as landmark television, though, I rather enjoyed this undemanding helping of revisionist pulp fiction. The episode galloped along, introducing several apparently unconnected threads that it finally tied into a neat bow, with the overall narrative efficiently driven by the Machiavellian Cardinal Richelieu’s unyielding desire to remain indispensable to France’s perfumed popinjay of a monarch, Louis XIII.
Having been the prime minister’s “enforcer” in The Thick of It, Peter Capaldi is now essentially performing the same function for Louis. As Richelieu, the new Doctor Who is playing it straight, his cardinal not quite roaring as one might have hoped, but a charismatic villain for all that.
READ: Peter Capaldi dislocates thumb in dress
As the musketeers themselves – Athos, Aramis and Porthos – Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera and Howard Charles dived in headfirst, having plenty of swashbuckling ensemble fun but keeping it all generally the right side of arch. And Luke Pasqualino was suitably glamorous as d’Artagnan, as was Maimie McCoy as the hit-woman Milady.

The late revelation of her true identity was surprising, as – still more so – was Richelieu’s treatment of another belle, even closer to him. The unsentimentality of this latter scene augurs well for future episodes.

Post a Comment