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 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 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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