In the Lavish, French produced Drama "Versailles" , which has been made in a collaboration with Canal+ and Film Canada amongst others; we have a glorious and vivid depiction of the period in French History that would define a Nation and personify the imagery and pageantry that the French Court would evoke for centuries.
In the French - Un roi sans château n'a rien d'un vrai roi
A King Without a castle is not a real King.
In 1667 in France, Louis XIV is a young king who wants to impose his power after his mother's passing. Her regency fallen, He and his entourage are left traumatised by the "Fronde" a revolt of nobility during Louis XIII's reign which has left him ruling from his family Hunting Lodge in the sleepy village of Versailles with the nobles refusing to pay taxation needed to pay for Military action and his men are consistently warding off the attacks of Spanish conspirators in the locality.
As the series begins, his wife is in her confinement, having lost one child in childbirth. Her plight is bleak, she is kept in seclusion to protect her from anything that might affect the child. Her only comforts are her dogs and her dwarves, she leads a lonely existence.
She cannot speak French, as a Spaniard, the princess had been a power piece to maintain peace.
There appears to be little love between them, but perhaps Louis has been distracted for some time, he is nervous about attacks and dreams prophetic visions about a palace filled with light and a beautiful curly haired maiden.
The court is full of sexual freedom, the King has two mistresses, the King’s younger brother is the lover of Chevalier, a preening schemer if ever I saw one. Sexual indiscretion is everywhere and depicted vividly here.
The complex relationship between Siblings is depicted honestly. Louis and Phillipe, played by George Blagden and Alexander Vlahos , simmer with tensions in every scene the have alone together. Both are driven, both are ambitious and the waters are further muddied by the fact that Louis beds Phillipe’s Wife.
He is loyal to his impetuous older Brother, he wants to protect him, mostly from himself. He is not the easiest man to corale . Younger brother Phillipe wants to be allowed to fight, his military strategising appears to be sound and Louis is precious about allowing any power out of his grasp when he is besieged on all sides.
It does not help that lover Chevalier whispers ideas of what Phillipe might achieve were his brother’s children not reach adulthood. As I said a schemer.
Bon Temps is his closest man his cleaner of personal messes and his protector from the most rebellious courtiers whose only wish is to return to Paris.
Fabian is his spymaster and enforcer. Fair warning. The scenes of torture and persuasion are Graphic and to my mind slightly overdone, but this I suppose was a time of excess or else the glorious palace would never have been built and Louis would not have reigned for 77 years, so the means by which Louis held onto the country was his knowledge of all the pieces in play..
He does not seem to take pleasure in his interrogations.
Amidst all the intrigue was a satisfying conversation in the gardens where a one armed ex army Grave Digger is tasked with digging a lake a league long. His wry response was a flash a light and I hope he is a regular as his advice might well be the most solid that Louis might get in these most troubled of times.
I enjoyed immensely the addition of Claudine the daughter of the Queen’s physician, who is a woman of great intelligence. Her learning and beliefs that bloodletting goes against sound thinking of prolonging strength in the ill might see her accused as a witch and her Father fears for her safety.
Her thoughts are proven true as Bon Temps returns home to sit with his young son who suffers from the smallpox and is weakened further by the letting of blood. Claudine is feisty and strong and I loved her.
Her father is fearful that if the Queen were to lose the baby that he and Claudine might be put to death, but nothing can prepare anyone in the room for the events in the packed birthing room that results in the room being emptied and the end credits rolling over the angry shocked face of the King! I will not spoil the suspense for those who have yet to watch, but is was a masterful place to end this premier episode.
It was a deeply engaging piece even if the graphic violence and sexuality were not to my taste, it is no worse than that of Game of Thrones and the truth of the setting is evident in such turbulent times so I would not go as far as to say it was gratuitous.
As a companion piece to the main show, there is a short ten minute documentary section which was a rather inspired idea that sheds light on the things we have seen depicted and I enjoyed that immensely too.