“Hello. My name is D’Artagnan. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Oh, hang on…
As the BBC’s latest identikit adventure serial off the production line, Alexandre Dumas’ boys-own adventure is reinvented with a darker tone and an awful lot of leather.
Filled with British acting stalwarts, it’s still somehow shallow, for all the extra layers piled on it. While there’s no Charlie Sheen, there’s also no Chuck Heston or Christopher Lee.
We’re two episodes into a very expensive show, shot in some value-for-money foreign locations. Everyone is playing it very straight. Luke Pasqualino (Skins) is adequate as young hot-heat D’Artagnan, Tom Burke (Great Expectations) is wonderfully broody as the troubled Athos, Howard Charles (&Me) the chancer Porthos and Santiago Cabrera (Heroes and BBC’s Merlin) the ladies’ man Aramis.
Hugo Speer (still Hugo ‘Full Monty’ Speer) is the no-nonsense head-of-the-precinct Captain de Treville.
Among the ladies, Alexandra Dowling (Merlin) has some star quality as Queen, but Tamla Kari’s (The Job Lot) Constance, a trouble-oop-North Emmerdale barmaid is entirely out of place, and Maimie McCoy (The Libertine and a mass of TV) as the villainous Mi’lady De Winter has you longing for Faye Dunaway – or even Rebecca De Mornay, there’s a turn up. No substance, you see.
Ever reliable Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It and new Doctor Who)is in a different class, underplaying for all he’s worth, but after his arch-villain Malcolm Tucker, Capaldi caries to much pathos and sympathy. Nowhere near as vile a rodent as Richlieu’s famous portraits, nor as domineering as Heston’s 70’s portrayal, this Cardinal has so far failed Bond-Villainy 101.
If episode one was some sort of old style Western crossed with Princess Bride’s revenge sub-plot, for episode two we got another stalwart, Jason Flemying recylcing his Primeval performance. Not the only bit of recycling, this was effectively a rehash of Die Hard; Flemyng’s revolutionary terrorist covering his true intent, a heist of the palace vaults.
With D’Artagnan going under cover, these musketeers are in a curious espionage/cop show time-slip that has little to do with Dumas’ rollicking adventure.
And here is my issue. My definitive Musketeers are Reed, Chamberlain, Finlay and York in Richard Lester’s 1974 double feature. Up against Dunaway’s Milady, Heston as Cardinal Richlieu and Lee as Rochefort, here were properly reckless, roistering and entertainingly clownish musketeers.
This latest BBC job is humour light and theme heavy; all leaden skies, rain, mud and wet leather; tortured stares into the middle distance, punctuated by regular ludicrous punch-ups. Which would be fine except there’s some ridiculous fight choreography, plenty of action, swash and buckle but about as realistic as the BBC’s Merlin (I know whereof I speak). Just how many times can D’Artagnan pirouette during a fight?
So while we’re spared the horrors of the Surf’s Up Dude! Musketeers (Young Guns with swords) or The Musketeer (a Chinese martial arts movie but with a brilliant Tim Roth as villain) or the TV-movie hell of Susie Amey as D’Artagnan’s Daughter, it’s not Dumas’ Musketeers.
It lacks the weight of the 1974 classic, the star power, the comedy – Spike Milligan and Rodney Bewes out-acting Charlton Heston – priceless. Lester’s version remained a faithful adaptation.
Perhaps I should be thankful it’s better than Atlantis or Merlin; it’s a grown up show, post-watershed with a bit of violence and blood, a bit of sex, lots of period design, heaving bosoms and macho boys getting into fights and swapping gruff one-liners.
Vegans need not apply; there really is an excessive amount of leather on show.