The Musketeers episode 1 review: Friends And Enemies

Review Rob Kemp 19 Jan 2014 - 22:00

Rob checks out the first episode of the BBC's new adventure drama, The Musketeers...

So the BBC has a problem. What can it use to plug the hole left by one of its most successful series? Step forward, The Musketeers.

The show's well-edited trailers have promised big budget period action and drama imbued with a style and energy that should attract even those who may feel uninspired by yet another adaptation of Dumas’ classic. However, punchy trailers do not a good show make, so the question remains; does the BBC still have a problem?

In some ways, The Musketeers would seem like a safe choice. It’s material that has been endlessly copied, re-imagined and revamped and with such wide popularity there is already a high level of recognition and understanding. People sitting down to watch this show are going to know exactly what they’re going to get. Sword fights, kings, revenge, love and of course, honour – essentially something for everyone.

At first sight it seemed that the show would be family friendly, and I for one can’t think of a version of The Musketeers that hasn’t been for family consumption. As we saw more, the later trailers were starting to indicate a more adult focus, and when the time slot was finally revealed it was clear that this was indeed aiming for a similar audience to that of Sherlock. That conjured images of something much more interesting. A risky, darker Musketeers – more Game of Thrones than Atlantis - would certainly be a brave and exciting direction to go – and as the excellent An Adventure In Space And Time demonstrated, the BBC, at times, does take risks.

The show itself, conceived by Adrian Hodges, (best known in these parts for his work on Primeval and Survivors) is not a page by page retelling of the Dumas story – and we’re thankful for it. Although this first episode touches on very familiar ground, speedily introducing all the characters we know and love well within its first half. I liked that we didn’t waste too much time. I get who the Musketeers are, I know what they stand for and I largely know why. Likewise, I get that Richelieu is the big bad and that Milady de Winter is both beautiful and cunning. Unless you go for a complete and utter re-imagining the Musketeer story is so well known you have to treat the audience with a modicum of respect in that we don’t need episodes worth of introductions because there is simply no surprise. It was good to see them adopt this approach and it certainly lent the episode a pace rarely seen in the opening of a season.

However, as with most first episodes, the introduction, no matter how quickly administered, will still eat into whatever story there is and here is no different. A somewhat perfunctory plot sees the framing of Athos with the remaining Musketeers attempting to clear his name in order to avert his execution. The story’s weak because we all know that Athos won’t die, he’s in the rest of the season for a start, so there’s no real sense of danger. However, this episode is not about Athos, it’s about introducing the audience to a diverse set of characters, and in that sense it does its job well.

As does the look and feel of the show. Prague is a more than suitable stand in for seventeenth century France, and with CGI filling out the environment the show certainly looks the part. Stylistically, the use of more traditional camera styles, rather than the over-stylised approach of some contemporary shows was especially refreshing during the action. Although there were points in which some of the sword fights looked more akin to a polite telling off than a ruck to the death, this didn’t detract in the main and overall, the action delivered.

Ultimately any show touching on the Musketeers’ mythology must have actors and actresses capable of performing in those key roles. Howard Charles’ Porthos is an early standout – whose seeming channelling of Ray Winstone (Robin of Sherwood era) via Clive Owen with a hint of Michael Caine is wonderfully effective. Tom Burke (Athos) and Santiago Cabrera (Aramis) also do fine jobs of distinguishing themselves as separate characters and between them the banter and drama are both well done and not out of place. Luke Pasqualino has probably the hardest job of the four trying to bring to life D’Artagnan. His is perhaps the most complicated character of the Musketeers and has been interpreted in many ways, some not entirely in keeping with the darker aspects of his character that we see in the book. Here, it’s too early to tell upon which road Hodges will develop the character, but certainly the interaction between D’Artagnan and Mrs Bonacieux hints towards the infidelity that has so often been dismissed in other adaptations. However, as an immature and rough yet charming character, Pasqualino certainly has winning qualities and looks capable of carrying a show of this size (for just how wrong it can go – see Chris O’Donnell’s D’Artagnan in the 1993 version of the Three Musketeers).

The villains of the piece are just as well known as the Musketeers themselves, and in Peter Capaldi they have a class act. Richelieu is a nasty, cunning, power hungry man that is the poster child for many a Machiavellian. His power comes from his ability to cause unrestrained pain and violence whist showing no remorse. Sometimes this can be hard to portray without veering into pantomime territory, of which Tim Curry was certainly cuplable in his performance in the above mentioned Three Musketeers (which remains a top guilty pleasure despite its shortcomings and that Sting/Stewart/Adams song…). No fears here though, Capaldi nails it first time out, dispatching characters in such a manner that his credentials as a complete bastard are well and truly earned and only increase my fascination in just what kind of Doctor he will be.

Alongside him with have Maimie McCoy’s Milady de Winter and whilst she gets a sizeable chunk of screen time, there’s a feeling that she’s being saved for later and her dalliance with D’Artagnan and back story with Athos will undoubtedly play well into the season. Similarly Ryan Cage’s Louis (unrecognisable from his recent turn as Alfrid in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) and Alexandra Dowlings Queen Anne get relatively short shrift, but do enough to convince as the insecure King and strong-willed wife.

Does then, the BBC have a problem? I would argue not, the show looks good, is cast well and the actors are eminently watchable. The story, whilst not being the most interesting, hit all the expected notes, but was well crafted in not labouring the introduction of such well known characters. Hodges looks to be using the novel as the framework upon which to base a series of adventures. This is a wise choice that could add material without detracting from the central themes of the book.

However, there is a but. It has nothing to do with the quality of the show, more so a missed opportunity. Whilst watching the first episode it felt like I’d seen it all before, and whilst it is a more adult take, it’s no HBO production. One of the most interesting things about Sherlock was that they took the premise, contemporised it and made it their own. It demonstrated that you can take a well-known and popular concept and make it something new, yet maintain the familiar trappings to bring in both new and old fans alike. I feel like I already know how The Musketeers is going to end and I find that disappointing because it detracts from the enjoyment of the journey. In that case I hope that Hodges has a few surprises up his sleeve, plays around with the Musketeer conventions or even turns the mythology upside down or against itself in order to make an old story fresh and unpredictable. If not, I fear that despite its obvious quality, it may not be enough to keep the audience’s interest.

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Adrian Hodges is not a name I associate with surprise and unpredictablity.

I enjoyed it, the darker and grittier tone gave it freshness. The changes to the introduction from previous adaptations I've watched so that was good too.

I enjoyed that.

Iit was nice switch-off-brain Sunday escapism before the grim reality of Monday morning!

In fairness to the sword fighting, the musketeers all fighting
D’Artagnan at once was literally a polite telling off. Overall a pretty fresh and enjoyable start, glad to see an adaptation willing to embrace some of the darker aspects of the cannon as well as giving room for genuine character development rather that start out with the lead characters as veritable saints. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series, particularly after sitting through the disappointment that was the entire first season of Atlantis.

I'm kind of torn. As a drama, I thought it was excellent. A solid introduction for characters that obviously have room to develop and hints of more than just the one layer to them, the acting was great, the script was good, cinematography outstanding. But as an adaptation of Dumas' book it grated. It's neither a complete reimagining nor a faithful adaptation, it's stuck somewhere in the middle and felt a little too confused as a result. Hopefully that'll work itself out over the next few weeks, because there is definitely potential here and I want to like it.

But it wasn't *trying* to be a faithful adaptation of the book. It was attempting to take those characters and that setting, and then do something that had the feel of that book. All the right story beats were there. They were presented in different circumstances, but it certainly had the tone of the book down cold.

I grew up watching Errol Flynn movies on Saturday afternoons, so I have a soft spot for swashing buckles, doublets and cuffed boots. I'll take 10 episodes of that any day. I genuinely enjoyed the charm, the rich detail and the rollicking music. And I'll take a brooding BBC Athos over a brooding NBC Dracula as well.

I spent the whole episode thinking Howard Charles was Craig Charles' son... they do look fairly similar... smeg!

The plot was interesting, the music great, the costumes brilliant, the direction and cinematography superb. But good grief please, please, please do something about the female characters. First there were only about 5, 3 of which were little more than 'ladies of the night' (one killed off already), a crooked landlady and a Queen who appears more intelligent than the King, but all we saw/heard of her was her dress. It would have been cheaper to use a clothes horse.

The script was funny at times, but may have mixed in far too many modern references, and my goodness, the main 4 roles looked more like a costumed pop band than 3 seasoned fighters and a wannabe. To be fair the acting was good, Peter Capaldi exceptional as ever, but as a replacement for Sherlock on Sunday nights, the show hardly seems worthy.

Moffat and Gatiss, if you were worried about your BAFTA nods, if this first episode is anything to go by, you can both rest easy. 4 out of 10 from me!

It looked slick, it was fun and had a racy edge to it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am left wondering whether I am out of touch given the widespread negative press.

I liked it a lot, I thought it had the potential to be one of the better adaptations of the story since the 70 's. I think that the weird obsession with comparing it to Sherlock is odd when it seems pretty clear that the show is not trying to be like Sherlock. So, to judge it against it is odd to me.

However, for a first episode I thought it was pretty good and look forward to seeing how the story develops.

Am I the only one wondering why all the characters look 17 years old? Isn't D'Artagnan supposed to be quite young and the rest grizzled veterans. They did the same thing to the Robin Hood series, you don't have to make all of the characters young to hit your demographic just make the show good.

D'Artagnan does look quite young but late teens or early 20s; the rest look 30+ and are according to IMDB so that's fine.

Well it was no 'Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds' but I thought it was good looking, swashbuckling, Sunday night fluff. It had just enough darkness to stop it being campy and provide a bit of conflict.

The last Sherlock set was appalling though. Episodes 1 and 2 were an utter abomination

Fair enough...maybe it is that they all look fairly similar...unfortunately for me any new variation will have to stand up to Oliver Reed and Richard Chamberlain...which is a bit impossible and unfair to these guys but true...

Indeed by comparison they don't have that grizzled look!

"The oldest by some years, Athos is described as noble and handsome but also very secretive, drowning his secret sorrows in drink."

Not sure where Oliver Reed ended and Athos began in his 3 musketeer films

Surely it's either a faithful adaptation of the book or it's not? I don't see how you can be "somewhere in the middle" and "confused" as a result. I'd say it's like the offside rule and pregnancy. You either are, or you're not.

Let me rephrase what I said. As a drama, it's great. Ticked all the right boxes, really enjoyable. As an interpretation (is that a better description that adaptation?) of the source material, it wasn't quite right. So I found myself enjoying it but not liking it at the same time. Does that make sense?

Aye that makes a wee bit more sense. It's like Man of Steel for me. As a film, I enjoyed it. But for me, it wasn't a Superman I recognise.

So basically it's a series of standalone stories? No thanks. I might've been interested had it been a procedural in keeping with the origininal novel but as it's clearly not I think I'll pass.

Why do you say it's a standalone series? From the first episode it's clear that there are ongoing plot strands.

Thank you, first time I saw him at that table it was bugging me where I had seen that hair before!

I enjoyed it a lot, fantastic photography and production design, loved the muted colours and gritty look. it was a solid start and I for one (and one for all...) am looking forward to seeing how it progresses. (..er sorry about that)

Incidentally, the four, main stars were on BBC's one show last week and they all still have the hair and the beards, when asked about it there was a vague reply about hoping to do some more episodes which kind of means to me, "we have been renewed for season two and we will be shooting soon"... which generally means that the powers that be have seen season one and like it enough for a second season to be commissioned ( i hope)

To be fair, nothing is likely to come as close to perfection "Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds"

I like it very much. Everybody knows the Three Musketeers, the origin story of how D'Artagnan meets the Musketeers Athos, Portos and Aramis is something you have to do in a first episode. If they didn't that would have been the big complaint. I have full hope that the coming nine eps will be something interesting.

I don't think he/she were comparing the show to Sherlock, The writer was trying to say they're aiming at the same audience, as this taken over from Sherlock's timeslot

Ah, I should have been clearer - it's something that I have read in quite a few places. This is the only place that I have commented so I was making a larger statement but I can see how it probably seems like I was having a dig or something :)

I do think that almost any show would suffer against Sherlock and the hype and interest that surrounds it.

There is a reason for that, despite being a cartoon with animals the story itself is faithful to the novels. Despite being a kid's programme they didn't shy away from the Queen's dodgy affair or the general lustiness of Milady. Also, the term 'Muskehounds' is never actually spoken in the series. Finally, the foxy cartoon Richelieu was managed to be even more menacing than Peter Capaldi!

Prostitutes?! There were no prostitutes - weren't you paying attention?! At one point Madame Bonacieux was (possibly) mistaken for one and later on she was pretending to be one. As for the other two 'prostitutes' I think you are referring to Milady and Cardinal Richelie's mistress - neither of whom whored themselves. In fact Milady can be regarded as something of a feminist icon!

...and as for seeing the Queen, patience - there are 9 more episodes to go...

Good start, need to watch a few more before you can make a verdict. I'm actually pleased to see something like this for a change....but it would have been mindblowing if it was Sherlock style set in the present time....but then..nothing can replace the coolness of swords ... Light sabres ? And the dress sense...hmmmm...

It's ok. You are getting old and past it now, can't keep up modern storytelling. Not to worry you can always watch the basil rathbone DVDs to keep to your slow old minded pace...;-)

Definitely a genre that needs more reviving. You can't beat a good sword fight done well. ( they are just light sabres that don't light up!) I was surprised how much guns were used to be honest....

Totally weird seeing capaldi in this, to me already he's dr who now. Still can't beat some good old fashioned swashbuckling - the 70s films were great fun, this got off to a good start all things considered.

Lol,I thought it was just me....!

Interesting, will watch that. This means deffo there will be season 2! Nice they axed the fades which was totally brilliant...

you do know, surely, that 90% of the audience have no clue what is going to happen because they don't know anything about the source material?

First off I noticed I made a considerable error in my prevous post. When I said I would've been interested had it been a procedural (series of standalone episodes) I meant serial (completely arc beased series with evry few or no standalone episodes). The fact that it is a procedural is exactly what turns me off because I don't like one hour procedurals. To answer your question: if i read this review correctly then the problem of Athos being framed is solved in a single episode. The hallmark of a procedural is that a problem (usually but not neccesarrilly a murder case) is introduced and solved in the same episode. The fact that there is an ongoing plot does not make it a serial. CSI even usually had a season arc. (might not be the case anymore since I quit that show 5 years ago) However I will say that it might just be the pilot. Rome had a very procedural pilot but that just turned out to be a weak start to arguably one of the greatest shows of all time so I will wait for the next review before deciding to give it a go but I;m not holding m breath on this one.

I can't think of many series that are completely serialised; even Lost had a 'standalone' story in each episode.

There are loads of series that are completely serialized. In fact all the best ones are (that's my very personal opinion and certainly not fact) To name a few: Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, The Bridge(the Scandinavian version at least) Broadchurch, Breaking Bad, True Blood, Utopia, The Fall, Homeland, Top of the Lake, And that's just what I watched last year. The new crime drama True Detective is also completely serialised. Serials are the new movies and more are made each year. HBO is busy becoming the world's primary channel and HBO does nothing but serials. Lost I would also qualify as a serial but I agree with you that it featured a bit of a procedural format in it's first season. It was only from season 2 onwards that it went all serial. They traded the standalone stories for season arcs which is very common for serials. Game of Thrones is one of the very few shows that doesn't have season arcs.

I thought Romes pilot was pretty solid, had me hooked straight away

It was alright. I thought the stolen eagle subplot was kind of redundant in that it basically did nothing but bring Vorenus and Pullo together. I guess it's also a matter of timeframe. When Rome originally aired it was one of the very few serials out there. When I first watched it I had already watched Game of Thrones and True Blood. Both of which had a better pilot. (even though as a whole Rome is way better than True Blood and possibly even better than Game of Thrones) So yeah i was already pretty spoiled at that point. But it still managed to make me want to see the next episode which was a lot better and it only went uphill from there.

The stolen eagle subplot was also the first move in the Ceasar/Pompey fued. I haven't seen True Blood myself, but I think Rome is vastly superior to GOT.

I was paying attention, I think you've missed the point, as illustrated by your remark that Milady can be regarded as a something of a feminist icon.

I think you're right, any show would suffer in that time slot compared to Sherlock and against Mr Selfridge on ITV. The Musketeers is another adaptation which (like Sherlock) has been done to death. But for me this version has stuck to an outdated formula, adding nothing new to the original story or earlier adaptations.

I loved this. The book is one of my favourite novels and I thought the characters looked promising. I enjoyed Milady's last scene immensely. I fell for Milady when I first read the book when I was 7 and I've remained in love since then. That last scene, combining her dark charm and dangerousness with a slight touch of vulnerability was a treat for me.
The cast is amazing. Peter Capaldi makes Richelieu truly scary instead of over the top, and the Musketeers (the four of them) seem to be comfortable in their skins.
I enjoyed the slightly artificial style of the combats. It is nice to see good old-fashioned choreographed fights instead of the messy dust-and-trembling-camera we usually get nowadays.
For a first episode, I don't think it could have gone much better than it went. I admit they haven't invented anything new, but right now, I don't think I have another old-style sword-fighting, adventure-like show to watch. And I never knew how to say "no" to my dear Musketeers.

That's what I've been trawling around for the last few minutes to find out, but apparently not. I was totally convinced though.

Ha ... that's what my husband keeps saying !!!! wrong .... again .

Luke pasqualino is just tooo cute

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