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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