TV Review: The Musketeers

Tuesday 21 January 2014 by

The Musketeers, BBC, TV,

There is a big Sherlock-shaped gap on Sunday nights. In an attempt to keep viewers from deserting, the BBC have a new offering – The Musketeers.

The series promised swash and buckle, but seemed to only manage an uncomfortable deflating balloon sound.

Familiar names and familiar characters are given the BBC makeover as we come across d’Artagnan trying to avenge his father’s death. And our floppy-haired hero is hot-headed and excitable, with a problem discerning nice women from the naughty ones, and wants instead just to rescue them all.

The Musketeers on the other hand – Athos, Porthos and Aramis – are less floppy-haired and more bearded (loveable) rogues, charming you out of money and into your bed (if you are so inclined). Ragamuffins and ruffians one and all, you can see why they are so magnetic. But the balloon has begun to deflate, and a handful of badly-timed clichés and wicked grins can’t save them now.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I entirely followed the plot – having jumped several steps ahead with rolled eyes and a loudly huffed “duh“. I haven’t even read the book and I got THAT bit.

The fight scenes gave me hope (not so much musket-use which caused some raised eyebrows, but I guess swords are much more dashing and daring). And all credit to the Beeb who gave some of the best lines to the female members of the cast. Our two lead female roles (given half the airtime) outshone the hairy quartet by quite some way.

But perhaps I’m being too hard. Our deflating balloon was much more one that is let go and whizzes around the room rather than one left in a corner the morning after a party. It has a brief fling of entertainment, some panto-like delivery and yes, the Hair Bear Bunch are mighty easy on the eye, which all serves to be a passable opener for a Sunday night series.

It seems the BBC can only flip flop between two kinds of series; the intense, heady rush of the likes of Sherlock, The Bridge, and the recently-cancelled Ripper Street, which welcome a cult following and breathless adoration, and the hammed-up, tongue-in-cheek romps of the likes of Atlantis and Death in Paradise. You have to have a very particular mindset for the latter, but it’s easy to become completely transfixed by the former. The Musketeers very much treads Atlantis territory. The write-ups have been favourable for the most part, but watch it with gritted teeth if you’re a Dumas fan, because it’s less witty observation and more slapstick than I think he intended.

In fact, the only character I felt had any standing was (typically) Peter Capaldi’s Cardinal Richelieu, whose raised eyebrow moved him away from the caricature King and Musketeers, and closer to a truly menacing enemy. The closing scene in the woods is chilling enough to make it feel less “he’s behind you” and more BBC Drama. I hope his gets a LOT more screen time.

With the Musketeers, Porthos, Aramis and Athos were all given their five minutes of character-reveal to give them some flavour, but they are roughly-sketched beings at best; one-dimensional characteristics that show them for The Gambler, The Cad, and The Tortured Soul, rather than well-rounded men of the King’s best guards. Each have enticing moments, and you warm to them instantly (we’re back to the charmed-into-bed bit again), but they feel snatched away from you too soon. D’Artagnan, bless his heart, is bursting with bravery and righteousness, but lands in silly-little-boy territory with great aplomb. His desperation to please, avenge and impress is charming for a while, but it is the Musketeers who get the best from him, and he’s a bit like that overeager puppy that is cute whilst he wags his tail but gets annoying when he pees on you.

But did I ENJOY it? I’ll admit that I’ve never read Dumas. And I’ll admit that even recalling the Musketeers story is a stretch, no matter how well-trodden it is. So as long as the Musketeers continue to be dashing bearded rogues and there are some suitably good lines thrown in by the women to keep it above water, I could make it past the first few episodes. But as with anything as joyously and uncompromisingly ridiculous as this, it’s better with a bottle of pinot and good company to brighten the mood… Add wine [for] taste.

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