D’Artagnan’s Unsatisfactory Parenting Skills (1994)

eloiseAs it turns out, there are so many Musketeer related movies that I ran out of Musketeer Media Mondays long before I ran out of DVDs – in particular, I didn’t get to many of the sequels, including the entire Man in the Iron Mask oeuvre and the 80’s sequel to Musketeers Crack Me Up Seventies Style and Musketeers Break My Heart Seventies Style featuring the original cast and creative team.

But before this epic project of mine rolls to a close, I wanted to give a bit of attention to the imaginary daughters of D’Artagnan.

As well as the ageing Musketeers, the book sequels focus on two ‘next generation’ kids, both male: the son of Milady, and the son of Athos. The girl in these stories is Louise de la Valliere, who isn’t related to anyone. Obviously that’s no fun at all, so several media adaptations (including, let us never forget, Barbie and the 3 Musketeers) provide D’Artagnan with a daughter to carry on his legacy.

On the whole I disapprove of Musketeer film sequels, as they seem largely an opportunity to kill off elderly versions of characters I adore, or show how miserable and lonely they’ve been since we saw them last. (Also they rarely provide what I actually want to see from next generation stories, which is Athos Being A Surprisingly Good Dad) Still, I remember loving La fille de D’Artagnan (D’Artagnan’s Daughter/The Revenge of the Musketeers, 1994) as a teenager, and I was hanging out for a bit of female-centred Musketeer action, so…

fille dartagnanThe opening scenes of La fille de D’Artagnan (1994) offer us a lot of dramatic horse riding, nun-slapping, a shirtless black slave in chains, and a very angry woman in a fabulous scarlet gown. The lady in red has ordered the convent raid in order to capture the shirtless man: an escaped slave who, charmingly, is not given a name despite kicking off the main plot.

Eloise (Sophie Marceau), a feisty young novice, is suitably violent in defence of the slave and later discovers a blood-stained document that he was using for a bandage. She then vows vengeance on the mysterious woman in red after the wounded Mother Superior dies in bed.

We never see the slave again. Apparently he wasn’t all that important, but the piece of paper he bled on really was, even if it looks like a laundry list.

It’s all somewhat earnest and ponderous, but picks up a lot when Eloise dons male clothing to go to Paris and ask her famous father for help with all that vengeance business. Young Sophie Marceau has a wide-eyed charm reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn, which adds a whole bunch of adorable to the general antics. Her first proper fight scene, in a compulsory tavern, is fun because she shows all the bluster and slapstick enthusiasm of the original D’Artagnan, with a lot less of the ego.

The plot largely revolves around a conspiracy (or perception of a conspiracy) based on the blood stained paper (which many think might be a laundry list but Eloise insists is a secret code). The conspiracy involves slavery and the potential death of the young about-to-be crowned king but really it’s a chaotic sort of conspiracy plot and every one knows it – it’s an excuse for a caper, for wordplay and code breaking and amusing misunderstandings involving love poetry.

Eloise picks up a lovestruck poet as her sidekick, which can’t hurt. His name is Quentin la Misere, and their romance is an oddball mix of his adoration and her complete ambivalence. I like the idea that she picks someone so entirely unlike her father and someone who is less traditionally masculine (she wants to be a Musketeer not marry one) but the truth is, she doesn’t pick Quentin so much as let him trail around the countryside after her. The only time we see her instigate any affection between them is a) in front of her Dad to annoy him and b) when Quentin is asleep in an odd scene where she unlaces her bodice in a gratuitous scene to remind everyone that Sophie Marceau has breasts. Apparently she’s attempting a seduction, but it’s so half-hearted that when the young man doesn’t wake up from the sheer presence of her topless chest, she covers up again and teases him later about what he missed out on. The kiss and acceptance of him as her lover by the end of the movie is completely unearned – I would have preferred a friendly handshake at that point.

Misere is an odd character – he’s given all kind of interesting context, such as being a political agitator through his poetry, and his use of wordplay is repeated often through the dialogue (especially by Cardinal Mazarin, his nemesis) but it doesn’t come to much in the plot at all, and he mostly exists so that D’Artagnan can learn to overcome his paternalistic attitude towards his daughter thanks to a completely unthreatening and perfectly nice young man. (I hate this “Daddy learns to let his daughter make her own decisions and comes to terms with the idea she might date” trope so much, I hate it, even in a generally excellent film)

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Anyway, the most important part of the story unfolds once Eloise gets to Paris and confronts her father with her existence – we learn here that this is an AU where D’Artagnan and Constance were together long enough to have a child together, which would be quite heartwarming (hooray, she lives!) if Constance wasn’t dead long before the film begins (boo).

“Planchet, it’s our little girl,” he announces to his decrepit servant, who is quite pleased and nostalgic, since apparently (is anyone surprised?) it was Planchet who did the bulk of the parenting work before Eloise was sent away. D’Artagnan himself, not going for any Father of the Year medals, is dismayed to have his adult daughter with him, as he was pretty sure the whole point of handing her over to a nunnery was that he would never have to actually make any paternal decisions.

She doesn’t resist the call to adventure at all; he resists it on her behalf, and she has to fight him at every turn to be allowed to even participate in her own movie.

The interesting question is, where did Eloise pick up her fencing skills? Those nuns obviously have hidden depths.

Not only does D’Artagnan mock and deny his daughter’s mission, but he then humiliates Quentin when the poet bursts in and tries to ask for her hand in marriage.

“Who do you think you are, D’Artagnan?” sputters the poet, only to find out that his ladylove is indeed the daughter of his greatest heroes. Awkward.

Philip Noiret is funny and sad and generally excellent as the aged D’Artagnan who misses his friends and the good old days, even if the script keeps repeatedly demanding that he behave as a complete dick to his daughter for the sake of, eh, character growth. I also find it hard to like a film that kills off Athos before it even starts.

Athos is not expendable, people!

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Highlights of the rest of the film include:

D’Artagnan coming home from pouring his heart out to Athos’ grave only to discover someone has beaten up Planchet and taken Eloise from their house – that someone, it turns out, being Eloise herself, because she’s amazing.

The repeated use of ‘Zounds,’ a swear word not used nearly enough.

A father-daughter duel in which the two of them face off against the Red Guard (about three each) and D’Artagnan has a Thrust named after each of his dearest friends.

Aramis the Bishop, discovered in bed (“religious contemplation”) with a young lady, wearing cucumber slices on his face… ah, Aramis, never change.

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“You reason like a noodle, my friend.” Aramis taking over the code-breaking task because his brain is better than D’Artagnan’s. Aramis likewise overruling D’Artagnan about letting Eloise join their expedition because, well, she’s useful and she’s seen the villains, so shush now old man.

The villains are Eglantine de Rochefort (presumably the previous Rochefort’s daughter) who has all the style and fabulous outfits of a Milady De Winter (every filmmaker working on any Musketeer sequel ever deals with their distress at Milady having been executed in the original by coming up with an alternative femme fatale to take her place because honestly, what’s the point without Milady?), and her boyfriend Crassac. Their motivations are vague, their villainy two dimensional (though Eglantine occasionally gets an extra dimension when she discusses her anti-nun agenda), but judging from their private scenes together, he at least seems to be very enthusiastic about oral sex, which is more than we usually see from the good guys. Also, Eglantine’s outfits are all colour-coded (red) and astounding.

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Aramis agonises for hours over the mysterious code only for Porthos to casually solve it while glancing over his shoulder.

Eglantine de Rochefort’s amazing trouser suit (with skirts over, presumably for riding) which she wears in her confrontation with Eloise. The scene turns into a hideously embarrassing catfight (ladies, have some fucking dignity!) but the outfit is sheer outrageous splendour and it made me happy every time it turned up.

The Musketeers finally discover that Crassac is the bad guy, and he has Eloise captive, but it turns out he owns so many chateaux that it doesn’t narrow things down much. Details like this make me grin. It is a very funny movie most of the time.

A frankly spectacular reveal that the one-eyed spy (a blatant red herring) who is working for Mazarin is actually ATHOS, back from the dead. D’Artagnan and the others discover this while breaking into a deserted chateau while he is attempting to break out through the same window.

JOY IS ALL.

The fight scene on the boat with all four musketeers is marvellous (Aramis fighting sabre and shooting an opponent because, you know, Muskets have guns sometimes), Athos teaching fancy tricks to his opponents while killing them, and most of all, Quentin going over the side of the boat just long enough to arm a nun.

I do like it when battle nuns are included.

Quentin saying “that’s so dated” when Aramis tells him there is a plot to kill the king.

Athos’ shifting eyepatch, which is apparently a legitimate espionage technique, and rapidly becomes a Musketeer in joke.

I’m not sure what to think of Eglantine de Rochefort, who seems to lurch from cliches of ‘fallen woman is villain’ to some genuinely powerful scenes musing on the nature of wickedness. I do like most of the scenes in which she and Eloise have conversations, at least one of which passes the Bechdel Test, a rare thing in Musketeer Media Not Involving Barbie.

Eloise’s intense sympathy for Eglantine almost but not quite makes up for the huge percentage of the story in which she is chained to something, or otherwise imprisoned.

Eloise does, however, talk and fight her way (almost) out of trouble with the power of swords and friendship. This scene, and that in which she fences the asshole who was going to force her to marry him, are both spectacular, even if they both end with her lost, vulnerable and rescued by her Papa.

D’Artagnan does admit to being proud of his daughter at the end, and their hug and riding-into-the-sunset banter is wonderful even if it’s been very hard-earned by some of us who had to grind our teeth through so many of their previous interactions.

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Lowlights include:

The wince-inducing discussions of how fashionable Negro slaves are at court (though we never see black characters at court or in any context other than being on or escaping from a slave ship), several references to the Redskins of America, and other “historically authentic” (I guess?) but generally uncomfortable discussions of race (in a movie that, let’s not forget, kicks off its plot with an escaped slave who doesn’t get a name). I guess it’s good that they acknowledged period racial issues at all?

Creepy spoiled boy-king managed by Cardinal Mazarin is worth showing on screen so he (the boy-king) can leer at Eloise, but Mazarin’s desire to marry the Queen Mother (and current Regent until the coronation) Anne of Austria is not apparently a good enough reason to include her as a character in the film. NEVER MAKE A MUSKETEER SEQUEL WITHOUT ANNE OF AUSTRIA, WHAT ARE YOU, NEW HERE?

Horribly awkward scene (one of many, but this is the worst) in which D’Artagnan’s paternalistic annoyance at Eloise ramps up and he slaps her in front of his friends; they then pretend this never happened.

D’Artagnan being a dick to Eloise on at least twelve other occasions.

The stakes of the ‘slave-trading’ plot being raised by a whole bunch of white nuns (and Eloise) captured to be sold as slaves. Because, um, that’s so much more dramatic than black people being enslaved? Oh, and no speaking parts for black actors in a plot that hinges on slavery. No, film. Just, no.

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Eloise is largely relegated to damsel for a good portion of the last half of the movie, which gets wrapped up in the Musketeer reunion instead. I mean, it was a great Musketeer reunion, I’m all for that, but I kind of thought she was supposed to be the protagonist here.

Eloise gets super creeped on by Crassac, which is played as if it’s supposed to be amusing how gross he is.

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Eloise also has her shirt ripped open to show how terrible slavery is, and also how pretty Sophie Marceau’s breasts are (in case we missed that, the first time).

I do not ever need to hear about D’Artagnan’s haemorrhoids.

Super icky sex scene with the boy king (who looks about twelve), made even more icky when D’Artagnan interrupts and starts berating the couple because he assumes it’s Eloise under the covers (and is judging her for her imaginary sluttiness when she is a captive and therefore unlikely to have consented). Oh, and when it turns out it’s not his daughter after all, the annoyed boy king makes a Negro joke because D’Artagnan is covered in soot. Yes. Really.

The brilliant final duel between Eloise and Crassac ends with him using her innate sympathy against her and faking a heart attack in order to disarm her, leaving it to D’Artagnan to stab him in the back while she cowers against the stairs. BAD FORM, EVERYBODY.

Ahem. This is a good film, really. In places. I can see why it’s so highly regarded. I appreciated all the nods of nostalgia towards the original novel (constantly teasing D’Artagnan about his yellow mare, etc). The sword fights were great, the Musketeers reunited were great, and Sophie Marceau is wonderful in all of her scenes. The uncomfortable racial undercurrents were only weird and intrusive in like, three or four scenes. Maybe five.

But…

Surely the point of twisting canon in order to give us a female-centred Musketeer sequel story is to, well. Give us an empowering story about women with swords. And this wasn’t exactly that. It was almost entirely a story about D’Artagnan’s failings as a father, and Eloise’s longing to be accepted by him, with a massive side plot of Musketeering Is Awesome, Everyone Should Try It. We never really got to know anything about Eloise as a person, or her skills and interests beyond following in her father’s footsteps (or even how she managed to train herself).

Given the title, I shouldn’t complain that Eloise is never framed as a potential Musketeer herself, or that she barely gets to talk to the other Musketeers, or that she doesn’t get a fully realised heroic journey because Papa is always there to play the hero in the last minute. The film was billed as “the daughter of D’Artagnan” and that’s exactly what we got.

Every scene in which Sophie Marceau is fighting as Eloise and being Eloise is joyful – but the joy gets sucked out of the scene every time D’Artagnan opens his big mouth in her direction. Gah. Their father-daughter relationship is so much more interesting when they are fighting than when they are talking, which is in itself a very intriguing film choice… but I wish, oh I wish she had got to rescue him at least once.

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I suspect I would have liked this film a lot more before I was so immersed in Musketeer lore. I wanted it to be much more than it is, and instead it left me with the same feeling that so many children’s films do these days, that the story is all about the Dad and his Feelings, while the daughter herself is a plot point rather than a fully realised character.

[EDIT: over lunch, my honey reminded me of what was great about that last scene – not just that D’Artagnan finally tells Eloise how proud he is of her, but that he explains partly why he was so worried for her, by listing the number of successful kills each of the men she duelled had to his credit. In other words, because she’s young and untried as a fencer and up against opponents with far greater experience. I agree, that’s a wonderful conversation, and shows him accepting her as an equal – but how much better would the film had been if this conversation had happened at the halfway point, allowing Eloise to be the hero alongside her father for the whole second half of the film instead of only in the last few moments?]

With all that I had to complain about, I simply adored the final credits sequence, which presented Eloise in exactly the position that the film never let her occupy: as a newly minted Musketeer, introducing herself and her co-stars, theatre-style (or possible, 1970’s sit-com style). It was adorable, sweet and funny and I can completely understand why most people (including me, twenty years ago) left this film smiling broadly.

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This Musketeer Media Monday post was brought to you by the paid sponsors of Musketeer Space, all 80+ of them. You guys rule! Previous posts in this series include:

Musketeers in an Exciting Adventure With Airships (2011)
Musketeers Are All For Love (1993)
Looks Good in Leather: BBC Musketeer Edition Part I (2014)
You Can Leave Your Hat On: BBC Musketeer Edition Part II (2014)
It’s Raining Musketeers: BBC Musketeer Edition Part III (2014)
Mickey Mouse the Musketeer (2004)
Musketeers Crack Me Up Seventies Style (1973)
Musketeer in Pink (2009)
Musketeers Break My Heart Seventies Style (1974)
Musketeers in Technicolor (1948)
Musketeer on Mars (2008, 2012)
Bat’Magnan and the Mean Musketeers (2001)
Russian Musketeers Own My Soul (1979)
All the Musketeer Ladies (2015)
K-Drama Musketeers Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (2014)
Dogtanian’s War on Moustaches (1981)
Listening To Random Musketeers (2002)
Musketeers Brooding in Shirts (2015)

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