31/03/2014

The Musketeers final two episodes of season 1



Episodes 9 and 10 of the first season of the BBC’s take on the Alexander Dumas classic.


In a way all the odds have been against The Musketeers from the presence of a recent unsuccessful film adaptation to its bizarre 9pm Sunday night timeslot plus the fact that the actor playing its primary antagonist will be indisposed for a second season. Typically the finale then has to go head to head with ITV’s returning Endeavour. Yet the series has, if not triumphed, then certainly thrived strongly with a growing sense that it has developed far faster than other comparable shows such as Merlin or Robin Hood. Perhaps the later timeslot has allowed The Musketeers a little more freedom to push some boundaries and rely on a darker sensibility though it has never quire justified the scheduling. Despite stellar ratings for the opening episode almost halving as the run progressed and a mixed critical reaction nobody can surely argue with the fact that the series has found its sense of direction. Though some of the plots are a little wobbly the whole package is fast, fun and feisty. Unlike some other series The Musketeers is never still long enough to be dull, it is always enlivened by excellent set pieces and the standard of acting is consistently high with, crucially, no weak links amongst the regulars. Though occasionally the writers seem to struggle to come up with believable plots where they do score highly is in characters that make an impact sometimes in a relatively short amount of screen time. Particularly pleasing aspects include far more proactive female characters than we might expect, villains that really mean business and a sense of place, however fictional that place may actually be. Put it on at 7.30pm on a Saturday and you’d have an even bigger hit.
"You're stuck aren't you?"

Knight Takes Queen BBC1 23/03/14 written by Peter McKenna / directed by Andy Hay
Aramis and Athos find themselves under siege in a convent protecting the Queen from a band of assassins as D’artaganan and Porthos head to Paris for reinforcements.

If the premise of this episode is wafer thin then it does feed full blooded results as the two Musketeers, the Queen and a group of nuns are besieged in a convent under attack from assassins whose numbers seem to vary from scene to scene! The idea that a chance remark from the King relating to his frustration over Queen Anne’s apparent inability to conceive would lead Richelieu to plot her death so his monarch can marry the visiting German Charlotte Mellendorff is unlikely enough, However writer Peter McKenna than has one of the nuns being Aramis’ former fiancée the previously mentioned love of his life. Moments after she is killed, he is in bed with the Queen!
Despite all of this, the thrust of the episode is strong with some great performances and director Andy Hay stages the action with panache. Siege storylines are often good vehicles for tensions and character moments and if some of the developments are a tad unlikely at least the actors sell it. Utilising a rambling stone building full of passages and cellars and a momentum that means the attackers don’t give up or issue silly ultimatums the episode pulls us along riding over the plot contrivances to offer a swashbuckling adventure.
Stand out performances abound; in particular from Lochlainn O’Mearaian as Gallagher the leader of the attackers, Gabrielle Reidy as a kick ass Mother Superior and Alexandra Dowling whose subtly caring yet regal Queen has been a constant highlight of the series. It would be easy for her to be a haughty distant sort of characters but both the writers and actor have made her likeable and intelligent.
The scenario affords the Musketeers plenty of interplay, especially Aramis and Athos – the latter’s reaction on discovering the former in bed with the Queen is a picture. The other two Musketeers have less to do though the episode does thrown up a potentially amusing scenario when the absence of the rest of the guard forces D’Artagnan and Porthos to recruit stable staff and old men to ride with them. It’s a shame there isn’t time to develop this a little further.


You see- after the new costume, further proof that Peter Capaldi is becoming Jon Pertwee. Here he tries to save Sean Pertwee and Musketeer Luke Pasqualino from the globby Axons using nothing more than finger pointing. Or is is Venusian Akido.

Musketeers Don’t Die Easily BBC1 30/03/14 written by Adrian Hodges / directed by Farren Blackburn
The Musketeers hatch a plan to trick Richelieu into publicly admitting his complicity in the plot to kill the Queen- while the Cardinal himself plots to get rid of the Musketeers.

Had the series not been renewed for a second season this episode would have worked as a conclusion to several plot strands but as it has, `Musketeers Don’t Die Easily` serves equally well as a way ahead. Both sides work to trick each other and the episode’s structure means we are not in on the Musketeers plan for several scenes which adds an extra punch to their apparent falling out. Under director Farren Blackburn’s preferred darker hues, the action spills out as the increasingly desperate MiLady holds Constance prisoner to ensure her ultimate escape having fallen increasingly out of favour with the Cardinal. Both Maimie McCy and Peter Capaldi are splendid, full of mutual venom and deceit as both characters try to escape from the scenario. Proceedings are further enlivened by a raucous Sean Pertwee as another of Milady’s accomplices plus a pregnancy revelation that raised a few eyebrows amongst the Musketeers.
Having taken us so far down the road towards Richelieu’s disgrace there is a measure of incredulity as to how he manages to emerge –if not unscathed- then still secure in his position. Perhaps had the producers known Peter Capaldi was leaving they might have used the opportunity to finish the Cardinal that the plot offers. Still the Musketeers;’ victory is not total as in an even less tenable development that seems tacked on simply to re-set the scene Constance’s husband tries to kill himself meaning she will not leave him for D’Artagnan even after the latter has gone to all the trouble to rescue her and she has only moments earlier declared her love for him! This story beat seems oddly shoehorned into the episode and out of character for the husband who was only recently a more vengeful character altogether.
Despite this slightly muddled ending, the episode is a tremendous re-stating of the stylish and entertaining qualities the series has brought. By bringing a cinematic look and sufficiently detailed plots to a UK TV genre that has sometimes seemed too shallow, The Musketeers has been a success. If rating still count as much as they did it’s worth the BBC considering an earlier time slot for the second season’ perhaps even on a Saturday night. It will only take a few alterations here and there to turn a very good series into a great one. In the meantime let’s start the speculation as to who could take over the role of Cardinal Richelieu…..
"I hope the streets stay this wide..."


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