Something you should know about me: there are three things sure to hook me into a new story, whatever medium it comes in. Those are: a period setting, a group cast, and seriously smokingly attractive people. The BBC’s new series Musketeers is batting three for three – or whatever sports analogy you want to insert there, I’m not good with sports.
Explicitly based on the characters of Alexandre Dumas’ musketeers stories, The Musketeers is a new series on BBC1, due to complete its first season after ten episodes on March 30th. On February 9th, due to its explosive opening ratings, it was commissioned for a second.
After catching the first episode in January (along with 9.3 million others), I became rapidly devoted. Now, because fandom is like a disease you’re compelled to spread around, let me tell you why you should love it, too.
1. Seriously Smokingly Attractive People
I don’t know if I was emphatic enough earlier. Let me rectify that now – everyone in this show is ridiculously beautiful. Like, I want Bernini to rise from the grave and carve them individually in marble beautiful. (Or, let’s be real, sexing one another. If you have the chance to get zombie!Bernini to carve anything, you damn well carve whatever it is in the throes of passion. Don’t trifle with zombie!Bernini.)
I mean, god. Look at these arseholes. It’s just not fair.
2. The Costume Porn
Real costume nerdery is a specialised sub-type of geekdom. There are those who can tell the decade a particular style of ruff came into fashion, and exactly what kind of lace should be adorning a cuff. I am not one of those people. Maybe you are. Maybe when I swoon over the tooling on the musketeers’ leather spaulders, you scoff and close the tab.
That’s fair enough. I suppose this point is in essence a reiteration of the previous one, in that I really just like it when stuff looks good. And man, does the stuff in this show look good.
3. Cardinal Richelieu, AKA Peter Capaldi, AKA The Doctor
The infamous villain of the piece, Capaldi as the Red Eminence is the real heart of the show. Every moment he is onscreen, you can’t take your eyes from him. While you can’t shake the certainty that Richelieu means no good for the musketeers (in the first episode he mentions that the disbanding of the musketeers’ regiment will come ‘in time’) you can’t help but love him as a character, especially while he inhabits the benevolent frenemy role he spends most of this season in.
Apparently, it was while on the set of The Musketeers that Capaldi received the text message, ‘Hello, Doctor’, letting him know he’d been cast as technically the Fourteenth Doctor in Doctor Who. This casting, while delighting Whovians everywhere, posed a problem for the The Musketeers production team. What is going to happen to the role of Richelieu in the second season? We can only guess.
4. The Plots
I’ve heard it posited that The Musketeers, airing 9pm on Sundays on BBC, is effectively filling the shoes of BBC ratings-powerhouse Merlin, which bit the dust in December 2012, as the new swords-and-quips family adventure drama. While The Musketeers shares superficial similarities with BBC shows like Merlin and its predecessor Robin Hood – it does have a lot of swordplay and groan-worthy one liners, after all – a key difference is the unpredictability of its episodic plots. A general rule is: if you think you know where an episode is going from the pre-credits scene? It’s not. The Musketeers has a tendency to deepen and broaden its tropes and its scope.
Besides, if we want to talk about successors, Merlin’s is obviously the lacklustre Atlantis, while The Musketeers owes its lineage more clearly to the late lamented Ripper Street, whose slot it fills. RIP, Ripper Street.
5. King Louis XIII
Louis XIII of France is always going to be in any musketeers adaptation, more as a device than a character, so I expected literally nothing of Ryan Gage in this part. All I remembered was the doe-eyed but forgettable Hugh O’Conor in the 1993 Disney film, playing a straightforward manipulated boy-king with a good heart. I was totally unprepared for Gage’s rendition of Louis – a vacuous manboy with flashes of sincerity; variably petulant, sweet, hilarious and heartrendingly vulnerable. Trust me: you need to get this man in your eyeballs, right now.
By the way, does that face seem familiar to you? It should. He also played the Master of Laketown’s lackey Alfrid in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. That’s right – this guy:
6. Constance Bonacieux
If you dare to tell me that The Musketeers isn’t as much about Constance Bonacieux as it is about Porthos or d’Artagnan, you will be on the receiving end of a frosty look and a haughty sniff, at the very least. Constance, a Dumas original as much as any of the musketeers themselves, is the young wife of a Paris tailor; through accident and misadventure she ends up giving bed and board to d’Artagnan upon his arrival in the city.
Constance’s story isn’t just about how she relates to and interacts with the rowdy, unpredictable musketeers. D’Artagnan’s sudden arrival in her life – and all the trouble that follows him – precipitates the realisation that she wants more than the life of tailor’s wife. She wants to learn to shoot and fight with swords. She wants to, in her own words, be treated as an equal by the musketeers, and by extension the male-dominated 17th century society. She wants to get hot and bothered with a pretty boy of her own choosing – namely, d’Artagnan.
Also, she’s hella cute. I can’t even cope with how cute she is, man.
7. It’s About Love (No, Seriously)
It took me a while to figure this one out. It’s not an in-your-face kind of theme. Rather, the feeling of it is built up, week by week, by little details. Porthos taking Athos home when he’s drunk; Aramis leaping to Porthos’ defence at the slightest provocation; Constance outfacing men with guns and swords and saying ‘I’m doing this for Athos’. Even in the episodic plots, everyone is willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of old friends or new loves. In 1×06, a character tells Aramis: ‘you already have a family’. She’s talking about Athos, Porthos, d’Artagnan and Constance.
Every character in this little family comes from a place of loneliness or heartbreak. Even d’Artagnan, the farm boy, loses his father in the first few minutes of the first episode. He comes to Paris to avenge him and ends up patching that hole with the friends he makes. The love between them all is painted in small details, and that love inspires similar attachment in the viewer. It’d break your heart to see them fail, this assortment of half-broken people clinging together for comfort, so you are desperate for them to win.
Even Milady de Winter, Athos’ infamous wife and ancillary villain in the show, cannot divorce her character from the love she and Athos once shared. It’s this love, and its subsequent betrayal, that enrages her. She is diabolical because her love, unable to be destroyed, has morphed into a twisted obsession with her beloved’s downfall.
The only loveless character in the series is His Eminence himself, Cardinal Richelieu. He is cold and solitary and matter-of-fact. It’s this that marks him out, even when working together with our heroes, as the ultimate antagonist.
So watch The Musketeers if you like period dramas with high production values: you can’t lose on that front. Watch it, also, if you like stories about the different ways that love can save people. If you want to see some fantastic British actors acting the shit out of their roles. If you just like watching hot people touching one another (and who doesn’t?). If you like it, come and tell me, and we’ll capslock at one another about Tom Burke’s eyebrows and Tamla Kari’s smile.
Pictures 1-6 and 8-10 courtesy of the BBC; picture 7 courtesy of New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and WingNut Films.