The Musketeers - The Exiles, A Rebellious Woman

02/03/14: The Exiles: Written by Ben Harris / Directed by Andy Hay
09/03/14: A Rebellious Woman; Written by James Payne / Directed by Richard Clar

“I love it when a plan comes together” says D’Artagnan at one point during `The Exiles` and he could be summing up the feelings of the production team after completing two excellent stories.  Having explored some back story of each of the Musketeers episodes 6 and 7 expand the series into wider territory so while there may be a little less swashbuckling (especially in the seventh) but there is more depth and intrigue. The Musketeers feels as if it is forging its own identity now, cutting loose from other adaptations yet retaining the key elements. The close to hour long episodes never drag while the hitherto less than inspired dialogue gets quite a polish and starts to become far more involving. 
"You're standing on my foot"

`The Exiles` brings matters into court politics, royal issues and proves a chivalrous escaped for Aramis. Notably different in tone from the opening half of the season Ben Harris’ script is packed with incident and intrigue coaxing some strong performances. It has the tone of a film and a plot that could easily become one with a little expansion.
King Louis’ mother Marie de Medici - exiled years ago for an attempted coup- returns to plead with her son for protection from assassins out to get her for unknown reasons. At first the king turns her request down only for an attack to take place that the Musketeers notice lacks credulity suggesting it was staged. Meanwhile Aramis and D’Artagnan have been despatched on a mysterious mission to escort a child and her mother to Paris which goes awry when the baby is taken. Inevitably these two stories dovetail when the baby turns out to be Marie de Medici’s grand-child and her ambitions to overthrow her son to become regent for the child (whose father died prematurely) are uncovered.
This scenario draws some excellent performances.  Ryan Gage’s Louis is a lot of fun as he stomps around like a moody teenager to the point where you might even start to sympathise with his mother played with steeliness and just enough vulnerability by Tara Fitzgerald. Santiago Cabrera shines in this episode as Aramis falls for the baby’s mother Agnes played with believability by Any Nuttall.  Pleasingly there’s also a larger role in this and the following episode for Constance as Tamla Kari displays her sword fighting prowess and comic timing. She is such a strong cast member who will hopefully get more to do next season. Slinking about in the background Peter Capaldi’s Richelieu is the epitome of the clever power behind the throne managing to manipulate the situation to his advantage. The episode achieves a very well -staged ending and an optimistic conclusion. 

Girls Aloud's new look was greeted with a mixed response
 `A Rebellious Woman` continues to mine the rich seam of court intrigue albeit with a more dialogue led storyline concerning the pioneering for her time Contessa Ninon De Larroque who runs what appears to be a scientific institute / refuge for women. Her attitude has more than a hint of proto Women’s Lib about it-  maybe this is why so many of the Parisian women we’ve met so far are so feisty. Played with assured conviction by Annabelle Wallis the Contessa’s apparent favour with the King cannot help her when she becomes embroiled in Church matters. Papal envoy and apparently old mucker of Richelieu, Father Sestini  (John Lynch) turns up hinting that the Cardinal could be in line for the Papacy (Peter Capaldi as the Pope- imagine!) if only he puts a stop to the Contessa’s `heathen` beliefs. James Payne’s storyline soon encompasses paganism too as Richelieu does his best to have her prosecuted for witchcraft only to himself fall victim to a poisoning provoking Porthos to quip “why are we running? It’s the Cardinal”.
Having far less action than previous episodes may alienate the less attentive viewer but this is the series’ richest episode to date, packed with deliciously old fashioned dialogue that the actors appear to enjoy. It shows how straightforward the Musketeers are compared with the manipulative likes of the Church, underlining their heroic decency. That Father Sestini turns out to be the poisoner is less of a surprise than his methods; a saint’s bone doused in poison!
Whether or not we are to believe such strong minded women could really thrive in these times Contessa certainly makes a convincing case focussing on the idea that she is educating women in the sciences so they can better their position. In one scene she advocates equality rather than aggression against men and this after we have seen the Cardinal’s men ransack her building. James Payne pens this all with enough flourish and wit to ensure it never becomes dull. The trial in particular is refreshingly handled.
Ultimately it’s Peter Capaldi’s episode though as Richelieu schemes and plots with a bristling ambition while Maimie McCoy’s MiLady returns to powerful effect. Tom Burke’s Athos is at the centre of the plot both falling for the Countess’ charms and of course recognising MiLady when she appears in the court. The latter sequences are reminiscent of darker historical dramas adding a refreshing tone to a show that has rarely seemed as if it needed to be in a 9pm slot. This episode perhaps justifies it even if it filters any commentary on the relationship between Church and State through the prism of Richelieu’s personal ambitions. John Lynch’s Sestini is slightly under-used though has a couple of terrific scenes debating the matters at hand with the Cardinal.
Underlining the moral stance of the Musketeers, while showing that Richelieu’s machinations are at least in part driven by the way the whole Church is run as well as practicality, `A Rebellious Woman` is the episode that will merit the most from re-watching and feels this show’s first classic.

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