[AKA: D’Artagnan is the Best Dad]
So I knew nothing going into this except that as with D’Artagnan’s Unsatisfactory Parenting Skills (1994), the made-for TV mini-series La Femme Musketeer (2004) promised to be a sequel to the Three Musketeers with a female protagonist, creaky old Musketeers who are too old for this shit, and Cardinal Mazarin as the new villain.
With Michael York as the elder D’Artagnan, I was cautiously optimistic…
In the first ten minutes, we learn that this D’Artagnan is happily co-parenting his talented swordsdaughter Valentine (Susie Amy) with his wife Cecile, he earns extra Dad points by allowing said daughter to cosplay as a highwayman attack him in random public duels.
The choreography is top notch and like almost everyone else filming historical European drama, they are using Croatia as a location. The music is somewhat loud and jangly, but mostly doesn’t get in the way of the story. The editing and pacing is quite jarring, but look, swords, never mind.
Hello Gerard Depardieu as Mazarin! He establishes himself as a villain early on with a charming “God helps those who help themselves” mantra. He is keeping his pretty, emo young king in ignorance of the actual results of recent battles, which isn’t especially hard given that young King Louis has about as much depth as a lace handkerchief.
We also get Villeroi (Marcus Jean Pirae), a supporting villain with an alarmingly perky goatee to take Rochefort’s place as our official ‘bad guy who does all the dirty work’. He’s possibly captain of the Cardinal’s Guard too. It was hard to tell through all the snarl.
Despite having two caring parents alive and well (no dead mother, hooray), Valentine is far from a conventional lady of the era, and bemuses prospective husbands by throwing knives at the dinner table.
But never mind all that, Villeroi is trying to blow up the legendary Planchet’s Tavern to piss off the Musketeers, and is caught in the act by three young smart-mouthed, newly-minted Musketeers: Gaston (Casper Zafer), Etienne (Nico Nicotera) and Antoine (Andrew Musselman). Gaston challenges Villeroi to a duel while his friends chuckle and exchange bets…
Until they realise who it is their pal has gone up against, a swordsman far above his pay grade, and promptly kidnap him mid-duel via a hay carriage.
Who can these cheeky young lads possibly be?
Valentine D’Artagnan, meanwhile, sneaks out of the house to head for Paris to find her fortune… and her Dad catches her. Ruh-roh!
But no! He’s not actually trying to stop her being the protagonist of her own story. Instead, D’Artagnan gives her the same advice that his Dad gave him back when he was the hero (awwwww), a letter of introduction to the current Captain of the Musketeers (awwwww), and his ACTUAL SWORD FOR HER TO USE IN HER NEW LIFE.
This D’Artagnan is the best Dad. Michael York, you are adorable.
I’m still recovering from the joy of this scene when it turns out that the Duke of Buckingham is played by Young Sherlock Holmes. And he’s about as committed to matrimonial fidelity as the old one. His glamorous would-be mistress turns out to be that other essential element of a Musketeer sequel screenplay: a glam-frocked villainess from the Milady School of Poisoned Hatpins. Bad news for the Duke.
Elsewhere in the city, Gaston and his mates are in trouble again, but God is on Etienne’s side in bar brawls and card cheating. He and Antoine create a street riot, pause to collect Gaston from a bedroom farce (because why should he have all the fun) and tear their way across the city.
Hmm, something very familiar about these fellows, can’t quite put my finger on it…
On the road to Paris, Valentine “rescues” a glamorous woman under attack who introduces herself as Lady Bolton (Nastassja Kinski) and they become BFFs. Yes, she’s the hatpin murderer. But they can still be friends, right?
Etienne, Gaston and Antoine are raked over the coals by Commander not-Treville who disapproves of them causing a massive street riot on their first day as Musketeers. In the street, Gaston immediately collides with a travel-worn Valentine, gets angry at what he thinks is some rude country boy, and issues a challenge to a duel.
Sadly, Commander not-Treville is a roaring sexist and refuses to give Valentine a chance to prove herself in the Musketeers. Because she’s a girl. So that’s where the patriarchy’s been hiding.
As Lady Bolton and Mazarin exchange their news, the main plot becomes clear: she has secured for him a letter that implies strongly that Anne of Austria returned the Duke of Buckingham’s famously unrequited feelings, which puts the King’s parentage in question. Oh, and Mazarin’s niece Marie Mancini (Clemency Burton-Hill) is angling to marry the King (she has seduced him with banter and violin skills), despite his own plan to stop the war in Spain by marrying a convenient Infanta.
Never mind the plot, I want Musketeer hijinks. Valentine stays overnight at Planchet’s Tavern, therefore hacking Paris far more effectively than her Dad did on his first day, and heads out to her duel the next morning.
Gaston is horrified to discover he challenged a woman, and refuses to fight her while his friends mock him thoroughly. When he sees her sword, though, he gets angry… because there’s only four swords like that in France, and his father has one (Etienne and Antoine’s fathers do too…)
They recognise each other, finally, because of course these are the sons of Athos, Porthos and Aramis – and Valentine used to follow them around when she was a little girl.
HOORAY, it’s the Four Musketeers all over again. And there’s a horde of Red Guard to trounce, to celebrate their reunion and force them to work together.
Okay, the whole thing is ridiculous, but it’s also gorgeous and I love it and shut up.
Back on the farm, D’Artagnan L’Originale is enjoying a dirty weekend with his wife now that they’ve finally got the teenager out of the house. He surfaces long enough to feed the pigs (named Athos, Porthos and Aramis, adorably) only to be set upon by thugs. His wife comes to the rescue with her heavy skillet, only to discover that the fellows are in fact… well, guess who?
MUSKETEER MEET-CUTE, SENIOR EDITION!
Turns out that D’Artagnan’s three best friends have been travelling around France putting on theatrical sword shows for coin (um, what?). Aramis never got around to joining the priesthood because he’d have to give up women, Porthos is John Rhys-Davies (Gimli!), and Athos smiles far too much to be credible but I’ll take it because his son has cute spiky hair.
Athos, Porthos and Aramis want D’Art to come with them to Paris to hang out with the younger generations tand… well, his wife has been basically nagging him to go and check on Valentine anyway, so this earns him some brownie points.
ORIGINAL FOUR MUSKETEERS RIDE AGAIN!
I can concede this this is simply not as well made or as elegant a script as almost any other piece of Musketeer media, but I’m not complaining because it’s flat out wish fulfilment, and so much fun to watch. A Musketeer sequel that doesn’t hurt my heart? Yes please!
Highlights of the rest of the mini-series:
1. While Athos’ son Gaston is anti girl cooties to start out with, mostly because she bruised his ego – the other two boys instantly support Valentine and make fun of him for being a prick. The four of them have a relaxed, siblingy rapport despite the script’s attempt to ship Valentine/Gaston.
2. Planchet’s angry wife might be the embodiment of all nagging lady innkeeper cliches ever, but I appreciate the depth and range with which she is capable of bellowing his name. D’Artagnan and Planchet both have loving wives who are competent and scary.
3. The stories of the Three Musketeers performing theatricals isn’t reserved for dinner anecdotes – we get to see it in action! D’Art holds out the money hat. I’m not even kidding.
4. Maria Theresa the Infanta of Spain (Kristina Krepela) is introduced very late in the story, but she is a lively, likeable character and I really enjoyed her scenes with her ladies in waiting. Travelling undercover as ordinary ladies, they face such challenges as grubby inns with bed bugs! With a can-do attitude and the power of friendship!
5. John Rhys-Davis is about as wonderful as a cranky ageing Porthos as you might expect. I wish we could send him back in time to be in the Richard Lester films too. At one point they throw him out a window with a four-poster bed just because.
6. Despite his early attempts to assert his male authority over Valentine, Gaston keeps falling into the role of sidekick, thanks to her amazing superpower of guessing the next twist in the script. By the end of the movie, he’s taking her orders and hasn’t even noticed.
7. Antoine and Etienne, on the other hand, are well aware that they are the B Team (aka comic relief) and enjoy themselves thoroughly: gambling, flirting and blagging their way across the Parisian countryside, swords at the ready. The scene in which they are about to be hanged as thieves and their four Dads (the C team) turn up to rescue them is a thing of beauty and joy, and exactly as humiliating as they deserve.
8. Meanwhile, Valentine gets locked with the princess and her ladies, spends four hours failing to pick a lock with a hair pin, and has far more romantic tension with Maria Theresa than she ever did with Gaston.
9. Etienne’s bargaining prayers to a God who agrees with him that his friends are assholes are masterpieces of snark and passive aggression.
10. While the menfolk all engage in a full on epic 28-way duel against Villeroi and the Cardinal’s Guard in the final act, the princess, Valentine and the ladies totally rescue themselves. TWICE.
This, D’Artagnan’s Daughter, this is what you did not give me: D’Artagnan rushing to rescue his daughter at the hands of the villain, only for her to stab the bastard in the chest with a broken sword before he can get there.
1. Another complete lack of Anne of Austria as kick-ass Regent and Queen Mother. Seriously. This is why we can’t have nice things. I’m also unhappy that the plot hinges on the assumption that Anne got herself knocked up by Buckingham, though it’s kind of amusing that the perceived affair from the original novel is coming back to bite a whole new generation of royalists. Still. Someone’s going to make me a mature Queen Mother Anne of Austria movie someday, right?
2. The young actor playing King Louis is mostly acting with his hair, and can’t cope when asked to do anything more strenuous than lounge on the furniture. It’s a shame given that Gerard Depardieu has so many scenes with him, and spends most of the story looking bemused at the other man’s acting choices. Maria Theresa deserves better, no matter what she thinks.
3. Lady Bolton is a disappointingly cut-price Milady. She is defeated by and gets locked in a cupboard by the only slightly feisty Marie Mancini, and has to chase her down and assassinate her in full view of Valentine. Sloppy work, Bolton.
4. Valentine’s hair and makeup is very 90’s Hope from Days of Our Lives, which is an odd stylistic choice for a series filmed in 2004, and set in the 1600’s.
5. There is a scene in which their new pro-feminist Commander, who has exchanged maybe four sentences with Valentine, sacrifices himself to save her from a bullet (muskets!) and everything slooooooows down as the Junior Varsity Musketeers all react in shock. It’s… a bit “Noooooooo….” (We only find out that she and Paul were close childhood friends after his death, which is a terribly awkward piece of characterisation)
6. “Did you go to sleep with your sword on?” Valentine is alarmed to find Gaston spooning her a little too closely one morning by the campfire YES THEY WENT THERE.
7. Villeroi’s beard is distressing. No photo can convey how much it sticks out like a cube someone built in Minecraft.
8. Valentine gets everything she’s ever wanted in the final scene in the Palace, and it’s immensely satisfying but she has to do it while wearing a massive chandelier of a dress.
So here’s the thing. This mini-series? It’s not… good. I mean, it’s not. The editing and pacing is uniformly terrible, and they managed somehow to make the gorgeous scenery of Croatia look like a slightly old-fashioned back lot somewhere.
Compare this story of D’Artagnan’s daughter with, well, D’Artagnan’s Daughter, and the production values can’t compare at all.
Apparently if you put in a bunch of really genuinely good fight choreography and allow your female hero to actually be a hero (while at the same time allowing the other women around her to also be awesome in their own ways, and the men around her to recognise her competence… and if you throw in a whole lot of sentimental glee about getting the band back together and how great the original Musketeers story actually was…
I’m going to like this version a whole lot more.
So yes, this is a this cheesy fanfic take on the Next Gen Musketeers With A Girl In It concept (OMG I wish this had a fandom, I would read La Femme Musketeer fanfic so hard), and it’s pretty great. The script doesn’t take itself too seriously (apart from the occasional glaringly ineffective Scene Of Earnestness which I put down mostly to directorial pompousness), and it is full of women who get to have an active part in the story – not just the violent ones like Bolton and Valentine, but canny young women like Maria and Marie Mancini (the king’s mistress who risks her life out of loyalty to him even though he’s ditching her), and loyal, funny matrons like Mme D’Artagnan and Mme Planchet. The boys, young and old, get good bits too, but not at the expense of the women.
Most importantly, La Femme Musketeer subscribes to the general philosophy that life is better when Musketeers are BFFs, whichever generation we’re talking about.
No Musketeers died in the making of this motion picture.
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)
D’Artagnan’s Unsatisfactory Parenting Skills (1994)