I don't think I ever got around to writing up my thoughts on the BBC's swashbuckling Sunday night adventure series, The Musketeers, but what I thought was this - gosh, that was a lot of fun. I mean, it took a while to get going, and was anchored as much in fun performances than anything else, and couldn't quite make its mind up as to how serious it wanted to be, but I liked it and was glad it was renewed. Not only was it renewed, but it's also gone on a bit of a wander around the schedules, moving to Fridays and being interrupted for 6 Nations Rugby and Comic Relief. But second series are often a truer indicator of what a show wants to be, so lets check in with it now.
The Three Musketeers has been adapted so many times it's practically the Star Trek or period adventure. Things that aren't it are often trying to be it, or consciously reacting against it, and for every poor version, or version with a cartoon dog in it, there is a great version out there for you to be compared against. I'm a big fan of the Richard Lester movies, for example, which I suspect will always be my archetypal adaptation. But there are problems, not least the originals roster of female characters, being mostly a Milquetoast (doomed) maid, unfaithful wife or murderous femme fatale, so a modern adaptation aiming for a little more diversity in the cast needs to look at that whilst being stuck with a lot of male characters running around in a male-dominated milieu.
So it's interesting that a couple of times in the second series the role of women in the period is actively explored. Constance (Tamla Kari, who I have a horrible crush on now) is pretty much rebuilt away from her roots into a likeable, feisty character stuck with a husband she doesn't love but remains dependent on because its the 17th Century. Its the women who's stories revolve around status, and fear of the loss of that status, and the show manages to call out the boys a few times for pretending that it's easy to walk away from all that and start again. It's also a driver for Milady de Winter, played with real venom and drive, and of course Anne, desperate for a son to protect her position as Queen, and then desperate to protect the secret of how that son came to be.
Against all this the boys get to run around in some nifty leather jerkins and buckle some swash. The core structure of the show is to alternate between the main characters for story lines and weave their main plot in between all that, and it's pretty successful in that regard. Sure, some of the plots are less succesful than others - Constances side or the Constance - D'Artangian romance is far more interesting than his, for example, and Porthos' plot was a little dull - but it all clips along nicely. As with it's first series, there isn't a bad bit of casting in the show and that helps a lot. Hanging out with the ensemble is just good fun.
The big change for the series was of course the loss of Peter Capaldi to Doctor Who, leaving them without a central villain, especially given a decision to keep de Winter as a wild card character. In walks Mark Warren as Rochefort, a full-on, barnstorming pantomime villain performance that fits right in among some of the other ambiguities. It works really well as a dark force at the heart of the show, something we know the heroes can call come together to defeat, when they get their heads out of their backsides.
So the second series of The Musketeers is much improved over the first. It keeps the performances and production quality, but has a more consistent tone, and a smarter sense of storytelling. I found myself looking forward to it on a Friday and missed it on the breaks; and look forward to a third series next year.