As an author of historical fiction and a history geek, it follows that I’m interested in BBC historical drama. The BBC’s attention to detail and production values are second to none so when I started watching their new version of The Musketeers back in 2013, I was hoping to enjoy it.
Turns out I was wrong.
I didn’t just enjoy it, I absolutely LOVED it!
Two series in, I am totally hooked and when Geek Syndicate asked me to write a guest post about why fans love it, I jumped at the chance to list why many, like me, are captivated.
So, buckle your swashes and here goes… In no particular order, 10 reasons why you absolutely have to watch BBC The Musketeers:
1) Costumes, corsets, cloaks. And hats.
With any period drama, the costume is very important. So far, so obvious. But thankfully this show, being a modern twist on the Dumas classic, has ditched the so–last–17th Century blue tabards and gone for a much more appealing updated look. The costumes are stylised, wisely giving a nod to the era rather than being hemmed in by it, pun intended.
The Musketeers (Athos/Tom Burke, Aramis/Santiago Cabrera, Porthos/Howard Charles and D’Artagnan/Luke Pasqualino) are dressed in leather. Yes, you read that right – leather. Four hot guys with fab hair and impressive beardage, dressed in leather. Actually, I could stop right there as that’s reason enough to watch but this is supposed to be a list so I’ll carry on.
The show won a well-deserved BAFTA recently for costume design. All the costumes are amazing, from our leather clad Muske boys with beautiful swishy blue cloaks and billowy shirts, to the sumptuous outfits of Louis XIII’s court. Drawing on both historical and contemporary fashion, the resulting style combines romantic swagger and gritty realism.
Oh, I almost forgot the hats. The hats are incredible. Who doesn’t love a floppy hat, especially one with a feather! Each of the Musketeers has a different hat which reflects his character. Athos uses his mostly for slouching and hiding his feelings. Sharpshooter
Aramis’ hat has a feather, yay!, and a wide brim that he uses to keep smoke and powder out of his eyes when shooting his musket. Porthos’ hat is larger and fancier than anyone else’s, just like his armour.
D’Artagnan has no hat. Yet. Watch this space.
2) Banter, bromance and adventure
The show is spot on in the way it depicts the relationships between the Musketeers; they argue, they fight, they joke, they compete, they snark but they are always there for each other. The heart of the show is the relationship between these guys, and their lives and loves. It’s the main theme of the novel too of course and necessarily any adaptations of it. In most versions that instinctive chemistry never quite rings true but it does in this one, partly because of the writing, partly because of way the cast play off each other brilliantly.
Whoever cast Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera, Howard Charles and Luke Pasqualino as Dumas’ famous characters deserves enormous credit. They created the perfect blend. Yes, they are great eye candy and fabulous actors, but they have a very special dynamic going on too. You believe they are having fun and have been friends for years. I’ve read they are good friends off screen as well as on and it shows. They’re heroes but they’re also flawed and rough around the edges. They ARE the Musketeers and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing these characters as well in future.
Getting the tone and the bromance right is a key element to making any male-dominated show successful. The Musketeers does it in the most obvious ways but subtly too, their banter reflecting the deep bond between them. They support each other through good and bad and there is a deep-rooted, natural brothers-in-arms vibe so difficult to capture in drama. The show is deliberately careful in its use of the famous ‘all for one and one for all’ motto; you are shown rather than told these guys look out for each other and are like family.
3) Feisty, intelligent women, Ninja nuns and not your average romances.
Some counterbalance is needed to all that camaraderie and The Musketeers provides it through strong female characters. In an era when women had little real power, it’s good to see intelligent, rebellious women holding their own against men.
Constance (Tamla Kari), Queen Anne (Alexandra Dowling) and Milady(Maimie McCoy) have their own Musketeer corps going on in the multi-layered, resourceful female leads. Excellent casting here too. If that isn’t enough, there are other awesome female characters throughout series 1 and 2, including some wonderful ninja nuns (I won’t tell you more, you’ll just have to watch to find out!).
Then we come to the romance. No cookie cutter romance here. Complex relationships, passion, forbidden love and sexual tension, all played out against the highest of stakes, are a key element of the show’s appeal and keep fans watching and invested. These are believable, flawed people we can identify with and therefore care deeply about what happens to them.
It’s expertly done, despite the difficulties of successfully integrating three relationships (affectionately known in fandom shorthand as Constagnan, Annamis and Milathos) with the swashbuckling action and overall series arcs.
4) Memorable Villains
Every great show has them. Series 1 had the terrific Peter Capaldi as the scheming Cardinal Richlieu, who left to take up the role of a famous time-travelling Doctor. Hard to see how they could top that but Marc Warren’s Comte de Rochefort in Series 2 was equally unforgettable. His performance as Rochefort will stay with me for a very long time.
But no resting on their leather breeches for the Musketeers because as well as minor baddies, the uber villains causing trouble in Series 3 will be Rupert Everett as Marquis de Feron, the corrupt Governor of Paris, and Matthew McNulty as Lucien Grimaud, a money lender and vicious criminal. Sharpen your swords and load your muskets.
5) It’s real, it’s dirty and it’s beautiful.
The sets and locations are simply wonderful. The attention to detail is stellar, the production values everything you would expect from the BBC and the cinematography is droolworthy, giving certain shots the look of an Old Masters painting.
The Musketeers shows us the grittier, muddier, bloodier side of 17th century France and conversely, the Court of Louis XIII is just as lavish as you’d expect but gives a potent sense of realism too as we see the King’s fickleness (brilliantly played by Ryan Gage as ‘Richard II meets Bertie Wooster’) and an impressive, smart, poised Queen who is also lonely and sad.
6) Amazing Action.
This version is the real deal on action. No blink-and-you’ll-miss it sword fights. Almost every episode has a sequence that takes your breath away. The amazing stunts, sword work, epic duels and fight scenes look slick and effortless which of course means a huge amount of time and effort has gone into them. Very, VERY, well done. Watch and admire.
7) Cheeky humour and hilarious one-liners. And it’s not a history lesson.
The cast know their characters so well and bring out the humour in snappy one-liners and witty comebacks, along with eye rolls, glances, expressions and (I’m sure) the occasional ab-lib!
I can’t remember when I’ve had so much fun watching a TV show. The Musketeers takes you on a wild ride that will have you laughing as well as cheering.
This version takes a relaxed approach to historical detail and accuracy, and the books, which is fine; this is drama not a straight adaptation or documentary and it’s meant to be fun. Viewers want an engaging story with believable characters, set in an era brought vividly to life – they don’t want a dry history lesson.
8) The best theme tune. Ever.
Composed by Murray Gold, it’s an absolute gem that perfectly embodies the joie de vivre of the show. If you don’t want to go sword fighting after listening to it, there’s something wrong. Series music by Paul Englishby is also stirring and wonderfully evocative.
Check out both, have the theme tune as your ring tone and make your inner child and adventure-loving heart leap every time your phone rings. Please BBC, release a soundtrack album!
9) It’s all about the story.
There are ten separate stories in each series along with overlying arcs and themes. While it draws on Dumas’ original work and stays true to its spirit, the longer format allows it to be innovative, expanding on the Musketeers world with an ensemble cast and excellent guest stars like JJ Field, Annabelle Wallis, Ed Stoppard, Tara Fitzgerald and James Callis to name but a few. It also allows for developing the characters in more depth, including Captain Treville (Hugo Speer). Treville had a minor role in the novel but here he is a charismatic commander and father figure. And ooh la la, more good news – Captain Treville is also a paid up member of Team Handsome.
We really get to know Athos, Aramis, Porthos and D’Artagnan, peeling back the layers more than in any previous version, and bravo for Porthos being portrayed as a mixed race Musketeer in homage to the parentage and race of Alexandre Dumas, père.
Every week is swashbucklingly good fun, with drama, romance humour, emotion and intensity packed into each episode. Nor is it afraid to tackle darker themes too, especially in series 2. There are few shows that can consistently serve up all of these elements to a high standard. The Musketeers succeeds and the resulting response from fans speaks for itself. They are passionate about the characters and the storylines, chewing over what has gone before and what might happen. I’ve certainly never watched a TV show where I’ve got so invested in all the characters rather than one or two.
10) Not your typical period drama.
As you will have gathered by now, The Musketeers is unique.
It’s edgy and has dark moments but keeps its sense of fun. It’s not your typical period drama, nor is it fluffy nonsense with no realism or grounding in the period. It has twists and turns and dramatic frisson but it also has romance, action, adventure and humour. It’s sassy and different in a sea of mostly homogenous historical drama, hence the BBC having some trouble knowing where to place it in the schedules.
It gives a modern twist to a well-loved classic yet has its own unforgettable style and old fashioned charm. Much as I love traditional BBC period dramas, it’s good sometimes to break out and create something unique. The Musketeers is certainly that.
So there you have it – 10 reasons to love BBC The Musketeers.
It’s brilliant drama, beautifully made and acted, and one of those rare times when all the elements come together perfectly. It’s fun, it’s fresh, it’s real, it’s heroic and very romantic; a proper adventure that will make you laugh and cry, and above all care.
There is something for everyone and if you’ve been living under a rock and not seen it yet, what are you waiting for?! Catch up on series 1 and 2 now in time for when series 3 airs early next year.
GS Guest Blogger: Liz Hanbury / @