The Musketeers, very loosely based on Alexandre Dumas's 1884 novel The Three Musketeers, has all the hallmarks of a BBC early Saturday evening drama series – all-action hunky men in leather costumes and buxom wenches in corsets, with added derring-do – and was indeed originally intended to sit in the slot vacated by Robin Hood and Merlin. It was eventually screened on Sundays in a later slot, but it’s Saturday styling gives you an idea of what to expect.
When I say loosely based, it is just that. The main characters created by Dumas are all present and correct but even the first episode’s set piece scene departs from the book’s opening. That set piece, however, sets the benchmark for the series and it’s a high one. A middle-aged man arrives at a rural coaching inn looking for a room and is set to by a gang of brigands. Cue a terrific fight scene with some exciting, edge-of-the-seat swordplay before the opening credits have rolled. The old fella is D’Artagnan’s father, which neatly sets the scene for the son to head to Paris to find justice for D’Artagnan senior and on arrival happens upon the musketeers paving the way for more fighting, scene-setting and character introduction. So far so good.
And, actually, it stays good. Some of the villains are a bit cartoonish (Sean Pertwee hams it up like a pro while doing a sub-Jack Sparrow turn) but the main characters are all well-rounded and do more than justice to the strong scriptwriting. Peter Capaldi as the scheming Cardinal Richelieu is particularly good – all narrowed eyes, pointy goatee and raspy voice, utterly convincing as a Catholic leader more interested in politics than religion.
The Musketeers themselves have good pedigrees. Luke Pasqualino (D'Artagnan) has had roles in Skins and The Borgias, Santiago Cabrera (Aramis) has appeared in Dexter and Heroes (for which he won an award), Tom Burke’s (Athos) CV includes The Hour and State of Play, while Howard Charles (Porthos) has racked up a formidable career in theatre to date. Hugo Speer, as Captain Tréville who heads the musketeers regiment, is underused and has little to do apart from bark orders and stride around, which is a shame for an actor of his stature.
It looks good too. It was shot in Prague and the period detailing is excellent from the sets to the costumes and weaponry. As you’d expect there are muskets aplenty and huge pistols, but it’s the blades that are the real star. The swordsmanship is first-class – well choreographed and good enough to be stamped as authentic by several renowned fencing experts.
As with pretty much all BBC period dramas, The Musketeers won’t tax your intellect too much. Just sit back and enjoy the ride – it’s great fun.
EXTRAS ★★★ Four behind-the-scenes featurettes: Creating Their World (18:30); At Boot Camp (16:06); Muskets, Leather, Corsets and Swords (15:50); and Saving Constance, Their Finest hour (11:20).