There are three essential aspects to a good Musketeer story: friendship, swordplay, and attractive men in diaphanous shirts. The new web series “The First Musketeer” hits all three notes, though it is a little heavy on the atmosphere (and light on humour) for my own personal tastes.
The first series is 6 episodes, each somewhere around 9-13 minutes long, and three quarters of each episode is Athos brooding in a diaphanous shirt, which… is not a poorly chosen aspect of the story to focus on.
Athos is the First Musketeer of the title, and this prequel to the classic story sets up an origin for how he came to Paris and became friends with Aramis and Porthos. But mostly Porthos and some other blokes.
The first few episodes are very heavy on the gothic shadows and Byronic mournfulness, but I quite like this version of Athos even if the show feels like the set up for a vampire romance rather than a cheerful tale of bros with swords. This is one of the most ambitious web series I’ve seen, with location filming, special effects and proper fencing choreography. Some of the acting is a little of the ‘slightly stilted, I went to stage school’ variety, and the pacing is slooooow at times, but the whole piece hangs together well.
Oh and the shadows are basically characters in their own right, which perhaps afforded me a little too much amusement considering the generally humourless tone of the show (apart from all scenes involving tiny dancing Porthos, who is adorable). I was definitely not a fan of the ‘let’s show how villainous the villain is by watching him abuse women’ trope which, frankly, I got enough of in Series 2 of the BBC Musketeers. Also very much not fun of the whole ‘Athos is abusive towards random women because of the one that haunts him’ aspect of the story which I felt was deeply unnecessary and took his casual snarky misogyny from the books way too far.
Milady appears in a series of traumatic dream sequences which set up Athos as the angstiest of them all, and gives us some focus for his general broodiness, especially when the only other woman in the story turns out to be a dead ringer for her. I’m sorry he didn’t turn out to be a vampire by Episode 6 but it’s a good attempt to fill one of the more interesting questions of the untold Musketeer story: how did the gang later known as the Inseparables first come together?
The answer to that question is, while brooding in shirts.
Don’t expect much Aramis, who only appears briefly, though tiny dancing Porthos is pretty great and his interactions with Athos and his
two dads brooding father figures bring light to an otherwise grim tale.
After several episodes devoted mainly to set up, the story really kicks it up a gear in the second half with a political intrigue plot surrounding Bishop Richelieu (not yet a Cardinal!) and a sinister aristocrat known as the Red Lady who has potential as an interesting Chevreuse-style villain, but doesn’t have time to achieve great evil because she has to constantly deal with either Athos or a gross villain pawing at her, for the sake of their characterisation. SIGH.
The most important relationship in the story is not that of Athos with his future best friends, but a paternal mentor-student friendship he makes with the guardsman Lezarre, foreshadowing Athos’ own future relationship with D’Artagnan. After spending most of the story speaking very slowly and judging Athos for drinking too much, Lezarre supports Athos after he has a nervous breakdown and almost strangles their female suspect (oh dear, the poor man, no thought given to how she feels about that particular scene). Lezarre convinces Athos that he doesn’t have to be a good man, in light of his tragic backstory, he just has to do his job and protect the men who are goodn.
In case anyone was wondering, this is totally a story about men. The mysterious Queen Mother (ie Marie de Medici) at the heart of the plot never appears, nor proves to be as important or threatening as implied earlier on. SIGH.
At least there’s brooding men in shirts, or I wouldn’t have made it all the way through.
As a tiny Easter Egg of a treat, the casting of Richelieu as being unexpectedly hot, young and Scottish is a delight, especially as he seems to be playing the part exactly in the vein of Capaldi. Scottish Richelieu for the win! Sadly, he’s only in episodes 5 and 6, but we have to take what we can get.
The YouTube channel for The First Musketeer includes outtakes, fanvids and other bits and pieces from behind the scenes filming that gives some idea of the complexity of the project. I may not have loved every aspect of this, but I’m all for more Musketeer goodness and I’d be very interested to see if there’s a Season 2 in the offing. It’s surprising that no one has actually done an Athos-centric prequel before, as it does work rather well.
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)