The Three Musketeers. Part One – Enemies

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The Three Musketeers was a ten part serial, broadcast on BBC1 between November 1966 and January 1967. It was adapted by Anthony Steven, directed by Peter Hammond and starred Jeremy Brett (D’Artagnan), Brian Blessed (Porthos), Jeremy Young (Athos) and Gary Watson (Aramis).

With the sequel serial, The Further Adventures of the Musketeers, due to be released on DVD next month, it seems the ideal time to dig out The Three Musketeers for a rewatch. Although it’s never had an official UK release, the Koch DVD from 2006 seems to play perfectly well on R2 machines, even though the packaging states that it’s R1.   Whilst it looks like an unrestored telerecording, the picture quality is actually pretty decent (I’ve certainly sat through far worse).

As you’d expect from a BBC production of this era, the studio scenes were taped pretty much sequentially with any outdoor sequences pre-recorded on film and played into the studio via telecine. The “as live” nature of this type of recording meant that it was rare to stop recording for minor technical issues, so there will always be some wonky camera movements and line fluffs.

Some of the shots, right from the start, are slightly odd though – which makes me wonder whether they were actually chosen by Peter Hammond.  A good case in point is the opening scene, where D’Artagnan’s father hands him a sword, tells him he’s now a man and urges him to make his way in the world. The opening dialogue comes from D’Artagnan’s father, but the camera is positioned behind him, so we can’t see his face. The camera then closes in for an extreme close up of the sword’s hilt as D’Artagnan wields it for the first time – but why don’t we see Brett’s face? It’s slightly odd.

As is Brett’s performance. Later to become something of a national treasure for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, he’s a little hammy to begin with – although once he falls in with the Musketeers he does improve somewhat. Having been told by his father that a gentleman never refuses a fight, D’Artagnan, when arriving at a tavern, doesn’t back away from a tussle with Rochefort (Edward Brayshaw) who is amused by D’Artagnan’s mode of transport (a rather weedy looking pony). Brayshaw, even with his stick on beard, is wonderful in his opening scene – mocking and controlled, contrasting very well with Brett’s hysteria. Since D’Artagnan is supposed to be something of a callow youth it’s understandable that he’s easily riled, although this makes the casting of the thirty-three year old Brett a slightly strange decision.

Rochefort declines his offer of a fight, but D’Artagnan still doesn’t shy away from single-handidly taking on three others. As this was shot on film, the fight is nicely cut together and it’s something of a treat – complete with over-dramatic music. Once D’Artagnan has been dealt with, Rochefort keeps his rendezvous with the alluring Milady de Winter (Mary Peach).

After his diversion with Rochefort, D’Artagnan has a meeting with de Treville (Martin Miller), the leader of the Musketeers. Although Rochefort steals the letter of introduction provided by D’Artagnan’s father, he’s still readily accepted – which makes Rochefort’s actions seem a little pointless. We then meet the three Muskeeters. Brian Blessed is excellent throughout the serial, an ideal Porthos, Watson gives Aramis a cultured, amused air whilst we don’t really get to grips with Jeremy Young’s Athos until later on.

Although the humour isn’t overt, it’s still there (especially if you regard Brett’s overplaying as ironic) and this is clearly demonstrated at the episode’s close as D’Artagnan manages to upset Athos, Porthos and Aramis independently within the space of a few minutes. This means they all challenge him to a duel, so it appears he’s going to be killed three times over!

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The Three Musketeers. Part Two – The Three Duels

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Although we open episode two with D’Artagnan facing the prospect of dueling with all three Musketeers, it doesn’t take too long before he’s accepted by them and Brett gets to utter the immortal line “one for all and all for one.” Cue another fight scene shot on film with more highly dramatic music. It’s interesting to note that Hammond seemed to have the use of a crane, as there’s a couple of very high shots which gives the scene a little lift.

The three Musketeers and D’Artagnan enjoy their tussle with the Cardinal’s men which then leads us into our first sight of Cardinal Richelieu (Richard Pascoe). Pascoe is another strong performer, exuding quiet menace in his meeting with Brayshaw’s Rochefort.

The Queen (Carole Potter) has a low opinion of the Cardinal. “That man of God who wears the face of Lucifer. A priest who in his lust for power once dreamt of making France’s Queen his mistress. His passion filled me with disgust and I so scorned him that his breast cannot contain the hatred he now bears me.”

Potter emotes freely as the Queen struggles to free herself from the trap she knows Richelieu has set for her (he hopes to make capital out of her relationship with the Duke of Buckingham, an English noble). This is an early example of the two main parts of the serial – there’s derring do and fights aplenty, but inbetween the action the pace slows down as lengthy dialogue scenes dominate. Carole Potter’s television cv isn’t particularly extensive. She returned as Queen Anne in The Further Adventures of the Musketeers the following year and the year after that appeared as Violet Smith in the Sherlock Holmes story The Solitary Cyclist (one of the episodes from the Peter Cushing series that’s sadly wiped). Like Brett’s early scenes as D’Artagnan, she seems a stranger to subtlety as she wails about her misfortunes to her trusted servant Madame Constance Bonacieux (Kathleen Breck).

The long arm of coincidence is in operation after D’Artagnan rents a comfortable room from Madame Bonacieux’s husband (played by the always reliable Paul Whitsun-Jones). With the Queen in trouble and Madame Bonacieux her only confidant, it seems plain that it won’t be long before she and D’Artagnan meet (within a matter of minutes as it happens). D’Artagnan observes her enter through a loose floorboard and Breck rather unsubtly demonstrates Madame Bonacieux’s distress by placing both hands over her face in a very exaggerated manner. After the Cardinal’s men catches up with her, Breck starts wailing very loudly, but luckily for those with sensitive ears D’Artagnan is on hand and makes quick work of them.

Afterwards, D’Artagnan and Madame Bonacieux regard each other for the first time and it’s clear that he likes what he sees ….

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The Three Musketeers. Part Three – Peril

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Madame Bonacieux’s bosom heaves in an impressive fashion as D’Artagnan attempts to divine the reason why she was targeted by the Cardinal’s men. A very blatant boom shadow is a little bit of a distraction, but there’s another example of Peter Hammond’s quest to find interesting camera angles – the conclusion of the scene is shot directly at a mirror, showing us the reflections of Madame Bonacieux and D’Artagnan.

Monseuir Bonacieux finds himself a prisoner in the Concierge, questioned by the relentless Commissary (Vernon Dobtcheff). Making his sole appearance in the serial, Dobtcheff’s another very dependable actor who’s always a joy to watch – his relentless bullying of Paul Whitson- Jones’ hapless Bonacieux is very nicely played. The Commissary is further irritated when he’s presented with someone whom he believes to be D’Artagnan, but turns out to be Athos. This shows us Athos’ chivalrous side – he doesn’t deny that he’s not D’Artagnan in order to enable his friend to remain at liberty – but Jeremy Young still remains the least developed of the Musketeers at this point.

Jeremy Brett continues to chew the scenery as his love for Madame Bonacieux deepens, as does his paranoia that she loves another (and he seems to have forgotten that she’s a married woman anyway!) “Madame, if you could see my heart, you would discover so much love.” At present she can’t reciprocate, telling him that she has gratitude for him, but little else. The arrival of a strange man provides more fuel for D’Artagnan’s jealousy. But the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Oates) hasn’t got his eyes on Madame Bonacieux, he’s aiming a little higher …..

Oates, later to star as the womanising, foppish scientist John Ridge in Doomwatch, plays a womanising foppish member of the English nobility here. So not too much of a stretch. He does seem to be enjoying himself though, as he clearly relishes the ripe dialogue. More restrained performances can be seen when the disheveled Monseuir Bonacieux is brought into the presence of the Cardinal. If Buckingham and the Queen are florid and histronic then the Cardinal and Rochefort continue to downplay. This is an interesting choice, as you’d normally expect the villains to offer broad and moustache twirling performances.

Brian Blessed and Gary Watson only pop up towards the end of the episode. Blessed remains as loud as you might expect, but he’s also as entertaining as you might expect too. He tells D’Artagnan and Aramis that he has an assignation with a noble lady and takes his leave of them.  But the truth is somewhat different – he finds his pleasures with women from a lower class of society (pride prevents him from admitting the truth). It’s a nice character beat and the brief following scene is played well by Blessed, as Porthos momentarily show irritation when he’s in the company of his latest date, before he puts on a brave face and makes the best of it.

More bosoms heave as Milady de Winter reappears. The Cardinal has learnt that the Queen gave Buckingham a casket containing twelve diamond studs gifted to her by the King. It seems rather strange that not only would she decide to give away a present presented to her by her husband but also one that would be so identifiable. The Cardinal sends Milady de Winter to England with the clear directive to obtain several of these studs. Once a link between the Queen and Buckingham can be proved, the Cardinal will have all the evidence he needs to bring the monarchy crashing down …..

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The Three Musketeers. Part Four – Audacity

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Peter Hammond’s showy camera-work continues in the first scene, as the Cardinal subtly manipulates the King (John Carlin). Several of the shots take place through a window, thus giving the audience a restricted view of the meeting (and also ensuring that we’re placed in the role of observers, eavesdropping on their conversation). The Cardinal professes that the Queen is wholly innocent of any inappropriate liaison with Buckingham, but then smoothly changes tack and suggests the King host a Ball in her honour. And wouldn’t it be an ideal time for her to wear the diamond studs he recently gave to her …..

Carole Potter’s Queen is distraught (again). Lying on her bed, crying woe is me, she’s fretting about how to get the diamond studs back from Buckingham in order to prevent a hideous scandal. Although as I’ve previously said, it was silly of her to give them away in the first place. Never mind, if she hadn’t then there wouldn’t have been much of a story.

Madame Bonacieux is convinced that she can count on her husband to travel to England and save the day, but he’s now the Cardinal’s man. Not only because he’s been paid off, but also for more pressing reasons. “Intrigue frightens me. I’ve seen the Bastille. I’ve seen the torture room. Wedges of wood to drive between your knees to crush your joints.” Peter Hammond’s love of mirror shots continues, as do scenes shot with restricted views. Here it’s because D’Artagnan is upstairs, viewing the confrontation between husband and wife through a crack in the floorboards. As with the opening scene of the episode, it allows the audience a chance to eavesdrop on a private conversation.

Paul Whitsun-Jones departs the serial in this episode. Later to star as the rather ineffectual baddy in the Doctor Who story The Mutants, it therefore came as something of a surprise that he was amongst the subtler actors in these early episodes. Kathleen Breck continues to be a stranger to subtlety, as Madame Bonacieux responds to her husbands departure by flinging herself across a table in a highly theatrical manner. “Dear god, what am I to do?” If I was uncharitable, I’d say a second take, but I’m not so I won’t.

It’s clear that her prayers will be answered, as D’Artagnan – due to his overpowering love for her – will do anything that she asks. “Since I love you. Since I would go through fire for you. Since I am brave, loyal to the throne, I’m your man.” Brett continues to push his intensity level up to eleven, especially when Madame Bonacieux appears to reciprocate his love. The moment when they kiss is an interesting one – as D’Artagnan is rather clumsy, to say the least. A bungled take or was this Brett’s choice, attempting to show how young and inexperienced (in so many ways) D’Artagnan is?

The Musketeers are sidelined in this episode until the last five minutes. It’s fair to say that at first they’re not best pleased at having to go to London, but duty calls. Despite the fact that D’Artagnan isn’t even a Musketeer, they seem to have no problem in accepting that not only is he is charge but that he won’t divulge the reason for their mission. For Athos, if it means a chance to fight and die then he’s content, whilst Porthos and Aramis also relish the chance for a scrap, even if they lack Athos’ apparent death wish.

With four of them, the odds are that at least one will reach London to deliver the vital message. And one is all they need. “All for one and one for all.”

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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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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 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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