The Further Adventures of the Musketeers – Simply Media DVD Review

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Broadcast between May and September 1967, The Further Adventures of the Musketeers (based on Dumas’ novel Twenty Years After) was a sixteen-part serial which followed on from the previous years adaptation of The Three Musketeers.

Brian Blessed and Jeremy Young returned as Porthos and Athos, but there were also two important changes.  Joss Ackland took over the role of d’Artagnan from Jeremy Brett whilst John Woodvine replaced Gary Watson as Aramis.

I have to confess at not being terribly impressed with Brett’s performance as d’Artagnan, so I wasn’t too sorry he didn’t return – although it would have been intriguing to see how he would have handled the older, more cynical character seen in this story.  In The Three Musketeers, d’Artagnan is young, keen and filled with dreams of heroism.  It’s therefore more than a little jarring when Ackland’s d’Artagnan is introduced at the start of the first episode.

Others may continue to call him a hero, but he’s not convinced.  Although he still holds a commission in the Musketeers, it now appears to be a hollow honour – especially since his three former steadfast friends (Porthos, Aramis and Athos) have all left and gone their separate ways.  When he recalls their old battle cry (“one for all, and all for one”) it’s done so ironically and whilst he bursts onto the screen with an impressive bout of swordplay, it was only to subdue a drunk in a tavern.  Brawling in taverns seems to be something of a comedown for the brave d’Artagnan, as he himself admits.

He’s therefore keen to grasp any opportunity to rekindle the glory days of old and when Queen Anne (Carole Potter) asks for his help, how can he refuse?  Potter was something of a weak link during The Three Musketeers and her rather grating performance continues here. This may be a deliberate acting choice though, as we see over the course of the serial that the Queen is a far from admirable character – instead she’s capricious, vain and frequently misguided.

d’Artagnan pledges his allegiance to the Queen, her young son, King Louis XIV (Louis Selwyn) and Cardinal Mazarin (William Dexter).  They are the orthodox ruling establishment, but the majority of the people seem to side with the imprisoned Prince de Beaufort (John Quentin).

The question of personal morality is key, especially when understanding which side the four Musketeers support.  As we’ve seen, d’Artagnan supports the Cardinal and Queen, but is this because he believes they are the right choice for France or is it just that they’ve offered him a chance to redeem his tarnished honour?

When d’Artagnan meets up with Porthos, his former colleague quickly joins him.  Blessed, a joy to watch throughout the serial, is never better than in his first scene.  He’s the lonely lord of a manor, complaining that his neighbours consider him to be something of a peasant and won’t talk to him, even after he’s killed several of them!  So he agrees to join d’Artagnan, mainly it seems because he’s always keen for a scrap.

But Aramis and Athos are both on the Prince’s side.  They believe their cause is just and Athos regards d’Artagnan’s allegiance to the Cardinal with extreme disfavour.  Athos supports the King, but in his opinion the Cardinal is manipulating both the King and the Queen to serve his own ends. It’s telling that d’Artagnan doesn’t deny this.

Joss Ackland, from his first appearance, is totally commanding as d’Artagnan.  If Brett’s take on the role tended to see him play the character at a hysterical pitch then Ackland is much more restrained and therefore much better. As I’ve said, Brian Blessed is tremendous fun – he gets to shout a lot and has some great comic lines.  John Woodvine, a favourite actor of mine, is excellent as Aramis whilst Jeremy Young once again impresses hugely as Athos.

Although there wasn’t a great deal of evidence of this in The Three Musketeers, at the start of this serial d’Artagnan tells us that Athos was always his mentor and closest friend (essentially a second father to him) so the fact they are on opposing sides means there’s some dramatic scenes between them.

Young, a rather underrated actor I feel, is compelling across the duration of the serial. Athos’ monologue in episode five, after d’Artagnan bitterly rounds on his old friends, is one performance highlight amongst many. “We lived together. Loved, hated, shared and mingled our blood. Yet there is an even greater bond between us, that of crime. We four, all of us, judged, condemned and executed a human being whom we had no right to remove from this world. What can Mazarin be to us? We are brothers. Brothers, in life and death.”

Athos is referring to the murder of his former wife, Milady de Winter. As we’ve seen, her death still preys heavily on his mind – but he’s not the only one. She had a son, Mordaunt, who spends the early episodes vowing vengeance on the men who murdered his mother. As the serial progresses we see that his thirst for revenge makes him a formidable foe. A variety of other plot threads also run at the same time – such as the kidnapping of the boy King, Athos and Aramis’ secret mission to England to rescue King Charles I (d’Artagnan and Porthos are also in England and change sides to fight for the King) and the continuing conflict between Queen Anne and Prince de Beaufort – all of which helps to ensure that the story, even though it lasts sixteen episodes, never feels repetitious.

Plenty of quality actors drift in and out.  Edward Brayshaw (once again resplendent in a blonde wig and complete with a wicked-looking dueling scar) returns as Rochefort, Michael Gothard is suitably villainous as Mordaunt, Geoffrey Palmer is memorable during his fairly brief appearance as Oliver Cromwell, David Garth is remote and aloof as King Charles I, whilst the devotee of this era of television can have fun picking out other familiar faces such as Nigel Lambert, Anna Barry, Morris Perry, Vernon Dobtcheff, David Garfield and Wendy Williams.

The budget was obviously quite decent, as there’s a generous helping of location filming and several notable set-pieces – such as the Prince’s escape from his prison fortress, which sees him absail to safety from the castle ramparts (although the use of illustrations as establishing shots for various locations is never convincing). Generally though, Stuart Walker’s production design is impressive – for example, his studio reproduction of Notre Dame Cathedral includes various architectural features from the original. Few would have missed them had they not been there, but it’s a nice example of the trouble taken to be as accurate as possible.

With a number of interconnecting plotlines, there’s certainly a great deal to enjoy in Alexander Barron’s dramatisation.  The episodes set in England may lack a little tension (as we know Charles is doomed to die) but his execution is still a powerful moment.  Athos is under the scaffold, frantically attempting to rescue the King, and is crushed when he realises that all his efforts have come to nothing.  A macabre note is created when Charles’ blood drips through the floorboards onto the numb Athos. Christopher Barry and Hugh David share the directorial duties and although there’s (possibly thankfully) few of the directorial flourishes that made The Three Musketeers notable, they manage to keep things ticking along nicely.

The Further Adventures of the Musketeers looks and sounds exactly how you’d expect an unrestored telerecording of this period to look and sound.  It’s perfectly watchable, although the picture is a little grainy and indistinct at times (and the soundtrack can also be somewhat hissy).  A full restoration would have been possible, but as always it’s a question of cost.  Niche titles like this don’t sell in huge numbers, so it’s no surprise that this DVD was a straight transfer of the available materials.

But although the picture quality is a little variable, the story and the performances of the four leads more than makes up for it.  With many classic BBC black and white serials still languishing in the vaults, hopefully sales of this title will encourage more to be licenced in the future.

The Further Adventures of the Musketeers runs for sixteen 25 minute episodes across three DVDs.  It’s released on the 23rd of May 2016 by Simply Media with an RRP of £29.99.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Ten – Walk to the Scaffold

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The war is over and Milady de Winter once more vows vengeance on her enemies, especially D’Artagnan.  She’s tracked down D’Artagnan’s mistress, Madame Bonacieux, who is sheltering in a convent and anxiously awaiting the arrival of her lover.

Although she’s been absent for a few episodes, Kathleen Breck picks up where she left off (alas) by still playing Madame Bonacieux as a wide-eyed giddy schoolgirl, which makes her fate something of a mercy killing for the audience. And given her broad performance during the serial it’s no surprise that she also milks her death scene for all its worth.  You can probably guess how Brett’s D’Artagnan takes it (not very well at all).  It’s just as well that the ever pragmatic Athos is on hand to tell him that “women weep for the dead, men avenge them.”

Even in this final episode, it’s clear that Peter Hammond was attempting to push the limitations of studio shooting as far as he could (the convent set features several high camera shots, not easy to do with the sort of cameras in use during the mid sixties).

Mary Peach’s bosoms once again heave impressively as D’Artagnan and the others track her down, list her crimes and find her guilty.  Naturally enough, the sentence is death.  Her executioner (Kevin Stoney) is already known to her and it’s poetic justice that he’s the one who’s tasked to carry out the act.  Shot on film, Milady’s final scene is extravagantly played by Peach, but unlike some of the other broad performances it works well.

Although some of the playing throughout the serial isn’t subtle and Peter Hammond’s direction is rather idiosyncratic, there’s still plenty to enjoy in The Three Musketeers.  The 25 minute format means that each episode zips along and there’s plenty of familiar faces – Kevin Stoney in this episode, Pauline Collins and Milton Johns, amongst others, earlier on – who pop up in small roles.

It’ll be interesting to shortly compare this to The Further Adventures of the Musketeers, especially how the recasting (Joss Ackland for Jeremy Brett, John Woodvine for Gary Watson) blends with the returning Brian Blessed and Jeremy Young.  The additional six episodes and shared directorial duties (Christopher Barry and Hugh David) should also give the sequel a different feel.  My review can be found here.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Nine – Assassin

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With a limited budget, the battle scenes we see throughout the serial have to be somewhat impressionistic.  This is demonstrated at the start of Assassin, as D’Artagnan and the Musketeers are seen defending a hill fort.  Although there’s a limited number of extras – representing both their allies and their enemies – sound effects, smoke and hand-held camera work all have to create the impression of many more.

The jumpy camera-cuts do effectively suggest the confusion of battle though, and it’s amusing that the Musketeers and D’Artagnan are cool enough to stop for a bite to eat and a discussion of their current troubles.  Milady de Winter’s mission to England spells trouble for all of them and although some of her plans (such as arranging the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham) don’t directly involve them, it’s still vital that they stop her.  A letter to Milady’s brother-in-law (who, we remember, had his life saved by D’Artagnan) should do the trick.

Presumably The Three Musketeers, like many series and serials of the time, had an allocated amount of film work per episode.  Since the previous episode had no filming at all, this may account for the more generous allocation in Assassin.  Some of it – for example, showing Milady’s arrival in England and her travels through the country –  aren’t strictly speaking vital to the plot, but they provide gloss and an expansive feeling (otherwise it would be too easy for the story to simply jump from one interior set to the next).

Milady de Winter’s reunited with her brother-in-law, but it’s not a happy meeting.  “Spy, bigamist, would-be-assassin, branded criminal. I’m sending you to our Southern colonies. In a few months the tropic sun would have burnt out that fatal beauty and sucked dry your evil mind.”  He leaves her a prisoner, guarded by young Felton (John Kelland) but Milady is easily able to manipulate this pious, worthy man.  Once again, it’s a pleasure to watch the delight on Mary Peach’s face as Milady manipulates yet another hapless victim.  She clearly has deep powers of persuasion, as not only is she able to obtain her release, she also convinces him to kill Buckingham.  A powerful lady indeed.

The scene where the Cardinal confronts D’Artagnan and the Musketeers is, like the earlier scene with Brett, Blessed, Young and Watson, shot on film.  This clever piece of scheduling meant that they weren’t required for the studio recording, therefore giving them a week off.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Eight – The Cardinal

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The revelation that Milady de Winter is Athos’ treacherous wife, whom he believed was put to death years ago, spins the story in a different direction.  Athos doesn’t fear for his own life – we’ve already seen that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies – but this revelation also places D’Artagnan’s life in immediate peril.

After the high drama of the opening scene, we quickly change gear as Porthos is brought face to face with the cuckolded husband of his latest mistress, Madame Coquenard. Porthos is humiliated by the elderly Monsieur Coquenard, who capers around in a bizarre fashion (complete with antlers on his head!) before collapsing.

D’Artagnan is summoned for a meeting with the Cardinal. Pasco’s Cardinal remains conversational and reasonable – as stated before, it makes a change from portraying Richelieu as a cackling villain and it only serves to make him all the more deadly. He doesn’t attempt to suborn people through fear, instead he uses the much subtler weapon of charm. And even when he gives D’Artagnan an ultimatum, Pasco still doesn’t raise his voice. “Up till now, whether you knew it or not, my hand has been behind you. The moment I withdraw my hand, why then my friend I would not give one farthing for your life. You will remember hereafter, if any misfortune befalls you.”

There’s more odd shot changes during this meeting. Every so often, the camera cuts away from the two actors to show the various suits of armour dotted around the room. If it happened once you might believe it was a miscue from the vision mixer, when it happens again it must be a deliberate choice.

Later, the Cardinal enlists the assistance of the three Musketeers to escort him to a meeting. This is a baffling move, since his meeting is with Athos’ hated wife Milady de Winter, whom he’s planning to send to England to meet with Buckingham.

The Cardinal wishes to prevent Buckingham from intervening in France’s civil war and has chosen the Englishman’s love, the Queen of France, as the lever. If Buckingham doesn’t withdraw his army, then the Queen’s honour will be tarnished beyond repair. With the three Musketeers ear-wigging in the next room, they now know all of the Cardinal’s plans ….

Once again an episode closes strongly, this time as Athos confronts his wife. Both Jeremy Young and Mary Peach are excellent in this short scene. Considering the wrongs he’s suffered, you might expect that vengeance would be uppermost on his mind, but, as highlighted before, he’s more concerned about D’Artagnan’s fate.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Seven – All Cats are Grey in the Dark

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Milady de Winter has succeeded in winning the love of D’Artagnan, but tells the Cardinal that she’ll only reciprocate in order to convert him to their side. Interestingly he reacts strongly against this, as he wants no suborned followers. If D’Artagnan is to serve him then it must be because he wishes to act for the glory of God. Appearing in just this single scene, Richard Pasco continues to impress as the wily Cardinal, offering a subtle performance that contrasts sharply with some of the more, shall we say, exuberant turns.

Speaking of exuberant, D’Artagnan turns up at the house of Milday de Winter, only to be told by her maid Kitty (Pauline Collins) that her mistress doesn’t love him at all. Considering that he spent the previous episode bemoaning the loss of his one true love, Madame Bonacieux, he clearly seemed to have quickly forgotten her once Milday fluttered her eyelashes at him (he’s clearly a fickle type). When Milady returns, Kitty hides him and this enables him to hear Milady utter the following words. “One day I will have D’Artagnan’s head on a platter.”

The Musketeers are tasked to escort the King in his upcoming campaign against the Huguenots. Porthos would sooner be fighting the English and given the current political climate it looks as if that will happen soon.

Aramis’ desire to leave the secular world has been a running thread throughout the serial and now it seems to be on the verge of happening. Porthos isn’t best pleased about this (and Brian Blessed shows this displeasure in his most typical way – he raises his voice). The cultured, religious Aramis contrasts well with the sensual, rumbustious Porthos and the pessimistic, nihilistic Athos – over the course of the seven episodes to date their various differing character traits have been skilfully drawn out.

The news that Aramis’ love still loves him changes everything though. All thoughts of taking holy orders are instantly forgotten, demonstrating that, just like D’Artagnan, he’s ruled by the women in his life.

More directorial flourishes are in evidence after Milday receives a letter which pleases her, but upsets Kitty. The picture rapidly cuts between Milday’s ecstatic face and Kitty’s distressed one. Elsewhere, a lack of location filming means that the friendly duel between Porthos and Aramis has to take place on a rather unconvincing studio set dressed as a forest clearing. Animal sound effects and a gentle breeze attempt to sell the illusion, but it’s no substitute for the real thing.

D’Artagnan’s climatic confrontation with Milady reveals that she bears the mark of the fleur-de-lys. Which means there’s a great deal of wailing and the return of the projected fleur-de-lys on the wall. It’s a strong way to conclude an episode that’s mostly chugged along in second gear (which is understandable in a ten-part serial – there’s bound to be a few episodes where the plot doesn’t advance a great deal).

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The Three Musketeers. Part Six – Branded

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The King is upset that the Queen isn’t wearing her diamond studs and the Cardinal sees the chance to discredit her by giving the King the two studs he obtained from Milady de Winter.   But the Cardinal is foiled when she reappears shortly afterwards wearing it – and since Buckingham was able to get it repaired in England, the Cardinal’s two diamond studs are superfluous.

It’s intriguing that Milady is the one who’s out for vengence.  She wants to see D’Artagnan stretched on the rack, whilst the Cardinal would prefer to win him over to his side.  He professes admiration for D’Artagnan’s bravery, although this doesn’t prevent him from deciding to strike at him through his mistress, Madame Bonacieux.  The Musketeers warned him this might  happen, so it’s maybe another sign of D’Artagnan’s inexperience that he gave no thought to protecting her.

Kathleen Breck continues to demonstrate that she could scream for England as she’s carried off by Rochefort’s men.  D’Artagnan is characteristically hysterical at the news, allowing Brett to go soaring over the top once again.

He’s neatly contrasted by Young’s pragmatic Athos, who tells him that he’s only lost his mistress, not his soul.  When D’Artagnan snaps back that Athos seems to love nobody, he agrees and has little sympathy for his friend’s claim that he shares a deep love with Madame Bonacieux.  “You child! Every man believes his mistress loves him. He’s deceived.” Athos’ deep cynicism constrasts well with D’Artagnan’s boundless romantic yearnings.  Athos then tells D’Artagnan a tale about a friend of his (although it’s obviously about him).

It’s another chance for Peter Hammond to craft some striking images.  Athos’ friend married a beautiful woman, but was shocked to discover some time in to their marriage that she bore the sign of the fleur-de-lys seared into the flesh of her shoulder – the brand of a criminal.  As Athos reaches this point in his tale, a giant fleur-de-lys is projected on the wall and Athos goes over and stands in front of it.  He then tells D’Artagnan that he put the woman to death, which explains why he has a rather jaundiced view of the female of the species.  It’s a wonderfully delivered monologue by Jeremy Young.  “Killing her has cured me of women. Beautiful, fascinating, poetic women. May god grant it does as much to you.”

Milady de Winter persuades her brother-in-law to kill D’Artagnan and then confides to her maid Kitty (Pauline Collins) that she’s a winner either way. If D’Artagnan dies, all well and good, if not then she inherits the family fortune. Mary Peach hasn’t had a great deal to do up to this point, but she seems to enjoy being able to let rip in this scene.

As D’Artagnan does battle with Lord de Winter (Patrick Holt), a voice-over (an unusual storytelling device for television, although one very common in radio) pops up to move the action along to the house of Porthos’ latest mistress, Madame Coquenard (Delia Corrie). He’s quite shameless in telling her that he needs money for a new horse, clothes for his servant, etc. And since her elderly husband is a wealthy man it seems logical he should provide the cash. Her cuckolded husband, listening outside the door, doesn’t seem too keen though!

D’Artagnan spares Lord de Winter’s life. Since de Winter would have told him that the duel was because of (imaginary) slghts made by D’Artagnan against his sister-in-law’s honour, it’s a little odd that D’Artagnan doesn’t treat Milady with more caution when they meet for the first time.

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The Three Musketeers. Part Five – Scandal

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Peter Hammond’s by now familiar directorial tic is firmly in evidence at the start of this episode, as D’Artagnan and the Musketeers pull up at a country inn.  Rochefort has arrived ahead of them and he (as well as the audience) observe their arrival through a slightly obscured window.

That Rochefort is something of an underhand cad is clearly demonstrated when he shoots one of the Musketeers’ servants.  His men, also carrying guns, then approach our heroes which, since they’re only armed with swords, hardly seems like a fair fight.

But it’ll come as no surprise that even with such uncompromising odds D’Artagnan and the Musketeers still manage to gain the upper hand.  Plenty of swashes are buckled, but it’s still a struggle for the greatly outnumbered Musketeers to hold their attackers off – and in order to buy D’Artagnan some time to complete his mission they urge him to make his escape whilst they stay behind, still fighting furiously.

When D’Artagnan reaches the coast he indulges in more swordplay.  For anyone who’s been upset of the lack of fighting in the last few episodes, the first ten minutes of this one (all shot on film) more than make up for it.

D’Artagnan meets with Buckingham. The Duke gladly gives back the Queens gift in another scene that’s uniquely shot. Buckingham has created a shrine to the Queen, complete with flickering candles, and Hammond chose to overlay even more candles over the picture. This gives the scene a rather strange look, but it sort of works.

It’s ironic that although the Queen is the woman he professes to love, his earlier dalliance with Milady de Winter obviously indicates that he’s not the faithful type! And just as we can lay blame on the Queen for giving him the gift in the first place, if he hadn’t entertained Milady in his bedchamber then she wouldn’t have been able to snip off a few of the diamond studs.

Poor Buckingham goes to pieces when he learns of Milady’s treachery. Simon Oates is once again highly entertaining as Buckingham, now rather highly strung as he and D’Artagnan try to prevent Milady from reaching the Cardinal as well as attempting to repair the Queen’s damaged gift.

Given some of the strange camera shots we’ve seen so far, I’m not sure whether the one some fifteen minutes in was an accident or another piece of Hammond planning. Buckingham and D’Artagnan exit from different sides of the frame, but the camera doesn’t follow them. Instead, for a few seconds we focus on an empty room whilst Buckingham’s voice continues off-camera. An intentional shot or a miscue? Hmmm.

It’s interesting that the three Musketeers don’t make any attempt to follow D’Artagnan after they finally manage to battle off Rochefort’s men. Instead they spend a convivial evening at the inn, eating and drinking – although there’s a twist. Porthos is perturbed to find that Athos wagered his horse in a bet with the landlord (and lost). Aramis is equally upset to discover his silver crucifix has gone the same way. Although this is nothing compared to the revelation that the meat they enjoyed earlier was Porthos’ horse! Lovely comic playing by all three actors, with a final pay off that Athos was lying to them all along and both Porthos’ horse and Aramis’ crucifix are unharmed.

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