selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
[personal profile] selenak
As has been pointed out to me after I posted my recent book review, the tv series Versailles is now available, and thus I could finish marathoning it (all ten episodes) just before leaving for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair.

So, as historical series go: on a scale from cheerfully ahistorical teen soap a la Reign to show beloved by critics, historians and viewers alike a la John Adams, Versailles is... Somewhere on a level with The Tudors (though it has more authentic looking costumes). Which is to say: mixes the occasional clever historical detail/interpretation with lots more blatantly invented stuff and historical nonsense, firm emphasis on the soap opera and the sex, but no such howlers as worshipping pagans and religiously tolerant Mary Stuart in Reign. The original characters don't carry cheerfully anachronistic names, either.



The pilot and the series finale feature slow-mo visionary sequences to techno pop soundtrack, though thankfully the rest of the season doesn't. We're given a date at the start (1667), though don't cling to that, because near the end of the season a character mentions the great plague in England having happened SEVEN years ago (when it did in 1665/66), and events from the finale include a death which happened in 1672. Costumes and hairstyles: gorgeous, and part of the show's attraction. Considering none of the long haired male characters is supposed to wear a periwig, though, and are all displaying their own hair (the characters, that is, not the actors), I miss at least one barber in the cast. (We actually know the relevanant names, btw. Which is why Anne Golon included Louis XIV's barber in her Angelique novels. I'm just saying.The hair looks contantly fresh and glossy, too.

Characters: a mix of historical and invented. The OCs are supporting characters, not main, though they have their own storylines. They are: Claudine (daughter of court physician who is actually better at medicine than dad, which doesn't go unnoticed by Louis XIV; is also the sole important female character on this show who at no point of the season has sex or a romantic storyline); Fabien Marchal (best example of the show thinking it portrays one thing but actually portraying another, as Marchal is supposed to be the ruthless ÜberCop, essentially combining the historical La Reynier's job with that of the Captain of the Musketeers), but in actually is shown to screwing up continually and so often that Louis not firing him is hard to believe), Beatrice and Sophie de Gramont, a mother and daughter trying to make it at the court (or are they? Beatrice has A SINISTER SECRET!), and a gardener/former soldier whom Louis has the occasional philosophical chat with as his job on the show is to essentially speak truth to power. He's way better at that (and at gardening) than Marchal is at policing.

Probably fictional (as in, I can't recall these guys at all, but I wouldn't exclude the possibility that at least their titles existed): Duc de Cassel, one of the main guys in the season's Evil Conspiracy (tm); Monmours (not sure about the spelling), another conspirator.

Fictional with a historical name: Rohan. I haven't decided yet whether he's supposed to be a version of the Condé who was a chief player in the Fronde, but probably not, since he's shown off an age with Louis.

On to the main historical players, and how they're written/acted here:

Louis XIV: played by George "Athelstan" Bladgen, characterised a bit more neurotic than most Louis' I'm familiar with, but the show actually provides some background by repeated callbacks to the fact Louis grew up during the Fronde when much of the nobility was trying to get rid of him. There's reason for the paranoia, in other words. Is also shown to be a magnificent bastard in training when he's not distracted by vestiges of age-caused emo. Since the show starts after both Anne of Austria and Mazarin are dead, Louis already is his own prime minister. His by far most intense and complicated relationship is with his brother, which brings me to one of the reasons why I was so curious about the show.

Philippe d' Orleans, aka Monsieur, played by Alexander Vlahos: in addition to the reasons I guessed why this is the clear audience favourite (openly gay, played by good looking actor, devoted to his boyfriend), he's also given most of the witty/sarcastic lines, and an intense support/resentment, love/hate sibling relationship. The show makes the most of Philippe actually being good at soldiering during the brief time he was in the field (true) and Louis resenting this (though he's also seriously concerned; that mixture of jealousy and worry, both real, is typical for the type of relationship they have). While Philippe has to live with Louis overshadowing him in everything else. Lots of callbacks to Philippe having been raised as "girlishly" as possible so he'd never compete with Louis, though I wonder why no one ever mentions uncle Gaston, Louis XIII's brother, who was the reason for that. (Being a non-stop schemer de luxe till his dying day.) As for Philippe's darker side, the show downplays this; there's one scene where he has sex with Henriette/Minette because he's angry with his brother (and by extent, her), but otherwise he behaves affectionately when he does interact with her, and if he's making out with his boyfriend in front of her, she's shown to be in an ongoing sexual relationship with Louis (though not in front of him). As opposed to history, he never orders her about, and doesn't try to separate her from household members she cares about; he doesn't show jealousy re: anyone other than Louis, and his protest about her mission to England is in the show motivated mostly by concern for her. He doesn't make conditions or forbids her to see members of her family. Where in history in the nine years of their marriage, Henriette got pregnant eight times (three miscarriages, three children dying very young, only two surving into adulthood), the show's version gets pregnant only once, and despite not knowing whether it's his or Louis' child, Philippe is shown to be deeply affected by this, as he is by Henriette's death.

The Chevalier de Lorraine (his first name was Philippe, so for obvious reasons, both biographers and fictional presentations tend to avoid it): starts out quite resembling the historical original (banters with Philippe, is smug towards Henriette, looks out for No.1 and cheats on Philippe when the later is absent), and later gets mellowed as his sincere love for Philippe is emphasized. His sinister side, too, is reduced to one act (he gets rid of Henriette's maid by a blatant lie); while he also gets entanged in the season's big conspiracy, it's more or less by stupidity and cowardice, not actual evil intentions. It cracked me up when his brief stint in the Bastille was shown involving maggots in his food and chains around his ankle, because seriously, no. When a nobleman ended up in the Bastille, and especially one as rich as the Chevalier de Lorraine, he enjoyed nice quarters and even servants. And of course, given the editing out of evil sides, he's not responsible for Henriette's death, nor is he even suspected of it. By anyone. (Fabien "Worst French Cop Ever" Marchal lists suspects that include Minette's entire British family despite the fact we've only seen Charles on this show, but does he list the Chevalier? Nah.)

Athenais de Montespan: probably the show's most layered female character, shown as witty (she gets the best lines after Philippe), which btw is historically accurate, she was supposedly the wittiest of Louis' mistresses, ambitious, verging on ruthlessness, but not without compassion for her predecessor Louise de la Valliere and OC Sophie. It's a more positive characterisation than you usually get for Athenais (due to her involvement in the affaire des poisons later in the reign of Louis XIV), and typical for one of the show's virtues so far, which is that it doesn't set its female characters against each other (as far as the narrative and the audience are concerned; there are of course female characters opposing each other on a Watsonian level).

Louise de la Valliere: the usual, which is to say, hating herself for religious reasons despite also loving Louis, and wanting to leave the court to put an end to this.

Maria Teresa: this is the first fiction I've encountered which actually uses Louis' first wife as a character instead of background decoration. The characterisation is quite different from what I've read (where Maria Teresa basically was described with "pious, likes to eat, not interested in anything else), she's proud, smart, and the show uses an anecdote about one of her daughters to provide her with, gasp, emotions beyond "wife of king resenting his mistresses". Second most interesting historical female of the show.

Henriette/Minette: alas, not nearly as interesting on the show as she is in history, which, having read her letters recently, really is glaring. She's essentially reduced to "in love with Louis, wants to do anything for him". Where historical Minette acted as Charles' inofficial English Ambassador at Louis' court long before the Treaty of Dover became an issue, was responsible for most of the trend setting at court as long she lived and a patron for the poets from Racine downwards, and despite having grown up in France saw herself as an Englishwoman as well, the show's Henriette is a very passive character, not starting any conversations, a soundboard for both her lover and her husband without an agenda of her own. The French-English alliance and the Treaty of Dover are entirely Louis' idea; while the show sets up Henriette's negotiation of it as her big moment, the one point where she's active and a player, it does so by letting her fulfill Louis' mission of solely representing French interests, her loyalties not even a little divided because the show never gave us indication that she's in any way close to her brother (who only is in this episode and whom she has to outbargain). Even her death isn't about her; in this version, she is poisoned, but not by the Chevalier or other enemies of hers, but by the head of the grand conspiracy against Louis.

Sex or politics: more sex than politics, though the show tries to involve the occasional historical conflict. Hilariously, though, it presents France, aka the 400 pound gorilla of the European continent, as constantly menaced by William of Orange and the Dutch (this is a bit as if the US claimed Mexico wanted to invade it and/or dominate it, which no one sane... Oh, wait), with young William apparantly having endless cash reserves to finance assassination attempts and conspiracies against Louis. While the point that Louis' big idea to defang his nobles involved making them exchange actual power in their provinces where they could be a threat to him for having ceremonial glory in Versailles and dancing attendance (literallly), and that the ritualisation of his royal role was a part of this, as opposed to being a vanity project is actually a historical one, this season's conspiracy/conspiracies makes no sense whatsoever since it teams up a bunch of unwilling-to-be-defanged nobles (fictional ones, but presumably based on the actual Fronde leaders during Louis' childhood, who were hardcore Catholics) with at least one non-noble Hugenot with revenge issues for the siege of La Rochelle which happened a generation earlier, and the lot of them with (Protestant) William. This boggles the mind if you know anything about French history. Oh, and everyone cheerfully talks about the conversion-to-Catholicism-clause in the Treaty of Dover out in the open when historically, it was such a hot potato that Charles and Minette used ciphers in their relevant letters to each other, and even the official ambassadors in both countries had no idea.

Best historical set piece: Louis' dance interlude in his historical costume as Apollo (google it). Not quite as balletic as in Le Roi Danse, but pleasingly stylized, and George Bladgen does a great job. Close up runner: Philippe shows up at a court reception in female dress (which he still did as a young man).

All in all: not a must, but just the type of flawed entertainment which ought to generate lots of fanfiction.

Date: 18 Oct 2016 15:23 (UTC)
muccamukk: Text: Geishas were female Korean military leaders with lots of power. (Politics: Bad history! Bad!)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I love how Reign has just lowered the bar for everyone, lol.

Date: 18 Oct 2016 19:28 (UTC)
muccamukk: Guinevere looks speculative. (King Arthur: Looking Good)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
Apparently Mary's actual ladies in waiting were largely named Mary as well, so I can see the grounds for changing their names, but what they changed their names to...

Date: 19 Oct 2016 00:36 (UTC)
maidenjedi: (ainsley)
From: [personal profile] maidenjedi
"Greer" is the worst offender, too. I just can't.

I watch the show as though the whole thing is a fever dream Anne Shirley of Green Gables is having, in which she is Catherine de Medici. It's much more palatable and hilarious that way. :-)

Date: 19 Oct 2016 00:40 (UTC)
muccamukk: Uhura, in her Mirror Universe uniform, brandishes a knife while leaning suggestively against Mirror!Sulu's shoulder. (ST: Mirror Mirror)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
LOL, I saw that comment when Selena did her review. Works for me.

Though, I'm not sure even Anne Shirley would have come up with Greer. Why they didn't call them, idk, Anne, Charlotte and Eloise or something even vaguely plausible I will never know. Presumably they did not care.

Date: 19 Oct 2016 00:44 (UTC)
maidenjedi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] maidenjedi
Cordelia. One of them would have to be Cordelia. :-)

I think they were aiming for trendy, though I have a young daughter, and we know far more Charlottes and Eloises than we know Lolas and etc. The CW, trying damn hard to be a trendsetter since what, 1999? O_o

Date: 19 Oct 2016 01:48 (UTC)
muccamukk: Luke Cage holding his baby daughter. (Marvel: Cute baby!)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
I think I know one person who has any of those names, and she's two. I'd never heard Kenna before at all.

Date: 19 Oct 2016 00:42 (UTC)
maidenjedi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] maidenjedi
Interesting. I have been told I'd enjoy Versailles, but I feel a bit punchy about shows and historical accuracy so need to find a really compelling reason to tune in. Thanks for posting the breakdown, this is helpful. :-)

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