So we remember the crushing disappointment that I felt when the Gene Kelly version of The Three Musketeers turned out to not be a musical?
ALL HAIL THE RUSSIANS.
Enter D’Artanyan i tri Mushketyora (1979), a glorious three part mini-series, featuring all the satin shirts, lace collars and Musketeer shenanigans you could desire, along with an adorably cheesy musical score. THEY SING THEY DANCE.
I had so much fun watching this, I can’t even tell you. Musketeers singing their feelings out is now my favourite everything.
D’Artanyan (Mikhail Boyarskiy) has no sooner arrived in Meung than he is treated to a song about how the Cardinal sees and spies on everything – when the Red Guard chases off the unpatriotic singers, D’Artanyan ends up fighting them.
Rochefort (Boris Klyuev), sadly sans the eyepatch though he does have a bright violet suit and a scar, insults D’Artanyan’s yellow horse, which leads to a splendid scuffle in a street full of sheep. Mikhail Boyarskiy reminds me very strongly of Gene Kelly’s take on the character, and the tone of the movie is very similar to that 1948 version.
As D’Artanyan lies bleeding in a haystack, we meet a sinister, Dolly Partonesque Milady (Margarita Terekhova) – seriously, she’s all blonde curls and black cowboy hat, if she doesn’t sing country-style I will be very disappointed.
In Paris, the extremely tall and rail-thin Cardinal Richelieu (Aleksandr Trofimov) walks slowly around his office in his red robes, as the song about what a sneaky bastard he is plays in the background. He then invites Milady to join Rochefort in serenading him, which is amazing because it means this is a musical in which everyone knows they are singing. Rochefort plays the electronic keyboard and obediently sings a humorous song about the Cardinal’s love life.
At this point I am starting to wonder if the subtitle translators are actually fucking with me.
My, that Milady has quite a pair of lungs.
This is amazing. They are performing like a pair of adult children sucking up to their parents at Christmas. ROCHEFORT AND MILADY MUST ALWAYS SING COMIC DUETS.
It’s a trap! Turns out that the Cardinal asked them to play ironically – he is actually very angry about the way that he is being mocked in ‘street ballads’ and wants Rochefort to find the composer/s or at least arrest the singers.
OMG this is the plot, people. The plot is musical. The Cardinal is also sending Milady across to England to deal with Buckingham and I can’t tell if this is separate to the comic songs plot or a change of subject.
There are no words for how much I am hoping Buckingham is the mysterious composer.
(Note: the composing of comic songs plot is never mentioned again and it all turns into a far more standard take on the original Musketeers story, which broke my heart a little bit)
D’Artanyan comes across Bonancieux (Leonid Kanevskiy as the mercer argues with his pretty wife Constance (Irina Alfyorova) in the street, about how her work in the Queen’s court keeps her away from him. He then turns around to run a grift on D’Artanyan about how his giant floppy beret is inappropriate for a would-be Musketeer, and he needs a proper hat with a feather, even if it means he has to sell his horse. I love how much screen time is being given to a discussion of D’Artanyan’s hat.
We cut to another of my favourite Musketeer tropes: Treville chewing out the Musketeers for rampant bad behaviour. It’s Aramis (Igor Starygin) and Porthos (Valentin Smirnitskiy), both gorgeously cast to type – Aramis even looks like a slightly prettier version of Richard Chamberlain. Treville (Lev Durov) complains about how Aramis might as well be wearing a cassock as a uniform, and that Porthos is too fancypants with his gold baldric.
This may well be the most accurate rendition of the actual book that I have seen on screen thus far. None of this artistic license business. It’s like the Russians poured the book directly on to the screen, only pausing to add musical themes because if Dumas could have added song and dance numbers to his book, he damn well would have.
NOW PORTHOS IS TRYING TO CONVINCE TREVILLE THAT ATHOS HAS MEASLES, I SWEAR TO GOD.
This is so beautiful I may cry.
Ooo there’s a new song coming.
ATHOS ENTERS SINGING
“Life is hanging by a thread
Your enemies are brave
But, thank God,
For your friends
For your friends
And thank God,
Your friends have swords.”
Athos (Venyamin Smekhov) pointedly swoons from his wound, causing Treville to stop yelling long enough to fuss over him. I may have rewatched this scene several times. I regret nothing.
Next we get a Musketeers on Parade song involving many blue tabards, fencing practice, and raucous lyrics. D’Artanyan watches them in delight through the fence. I’m pretty sure Treville’s horse sings at one point. It’s pretty great.
You know what I’m waiting for now, though? The classic Musketeer meet-cute. While D’Artanyan tries to convince Treville (through a Gascony-themed duet) to give him a job, it’s all being set up: Porthos preens about his beaded belt, and Aramis receives a lady’s handkerchief from a carriage. Of course, when D’Artanyan barrels out of Treville’s office after the Man in Purple, the first thing he does is smack into Athos and his wound.
The chase sequence music is spectacularly electronic. Yes, this was made two years before K9 and Company; and yes, it sounds like it. D’Artanyan promptly crashes into and accidentally insults all three Musketeers, and then charms the pants off them when they all meet up for a duel later. It’s a lovely version of this scene which actually manages to convey how quickly they become friends by sharing jokes and of course fighting the Red Guard as a unit.
The sword fighting is TERRIBLE but enthusiastic. At least it’s done to music which makes everything funnier.
Then Aramis started lip-synching a sultry song that turns into what I shall refer to as the Musketeer Bro Song. It’s often sung on horseback, for extra manly effect.
“In our lifetime let’s enjoy
The ladies and wine
And good luck with our swords
With feathers swinging on our hats
We’ll tell our Fate: merci beaucoup.”
Queen Anne (Alisa Freyndlikh) is a robust, angry woman, impatient with Louis’ ridiculous antics. I like her steel backbone, her pretty pearl hairnet, and her habit of snapping her fingers when she is pissed off, which is nearly all the time.
When anonymous men break into Constance’s house to interrogate her about the Queen, upstairs tenant D’Artanyan not only watches them through a hole in his floor (a lovely book detail rarely depicted in media), but grabs one of the thugs, pulls him up through the ceiling, lays a sword at his throat and shaves his head with extraordinary care.
That bit is totally not in the book, right? I think I would have remembered that bit.
Constance’s main characteristics at this point are being dishevelled and intelligent, feigning lady-weakness when relevant, but watching every blow D’Artanyan strikes as if she wishes she were doing it herself. When he begins to flirt with her, still covered in shaving foam, she rolls her eyes and requests he at least unties her first. He does so WITH HIS TEETH to show how turned on he is. You completely believe that he has fallen for her like a silly puppy, and that she is charmed by his ridiculous antics. They kiss, with him upside down, through the hole in the ceiling, more than twenty years before that Spider-Man movie.
To escape some Red Guards, D’Artanyan then needs to perform an espionage snog with a random cute maid, who turns out to be KITTY. It’s really sweet – Kitty doesn’t normally get her own meet-cute. Apart from mentioning that her employer is Milady de Winter, however, she doesn’t get to do much yet. Stay tuned.
The Musketeers have a discreet two-fingered hand signal (no, not that one) which blatantly means ‘all for one and one for all’ when pressed against a wrist, or a tabletop. It’s the most subtle and restrained thing in this entire production. Mime your friendship to me, darlings!
The Cardinal is marvellous in this – a slender, ominous figure in red. There is a scene in which he ushers D’Artanyan up a staircase and then plays chess with him while being polite that is actually one of the most tense pieces of cinema I’ve seen in years. It’s a hair away from the classic Nosferatu staircase scene, and if I didn’t know the rest of the story I would honestly believe that the next episode would involve the Cardinal wearing a D’Artanyan skin suit. In fact, this scene in which the Cardinal offers to mentor D’Artanyan, who politely informs him that he’d rather hang out with his own friends, is devastatingly accurate to the book but comes much later in the text – two thirds of the way through the story. Here, it’s used to mark the end of Episode 1 on a note of tension followed by a reprise of the Musketeer Bro Song.
With all the tunefulness of a Disney princess, Constance Bonancieux escorts a bouffant Buckingham (Aleksei Kuznetsov) to the Queen’s quarters. This Buckingham is a slightly less fancy-schmancy version than Orlando Bloom depicted in 2011 which should give you some idea of how many ruffles and pearls he is wearing, i.e. all of them.
Buckingham and the Queen’s political and romantic situation is expressed entirely through a sultry duet in which she tries to keep him at arm’s length and he attempts to cop a feel.
The extremely “romantic” refrain is:
-I didn’t say ‘yes’, milord.
-You didn’t say ‘no.’
Buckingham, you’re a jerk. The Queen might have given you some diamonds but she’s not gonna let you kiss her on the mouth.
The fencing in this series is improving drastically by Episode 2, but only when D’Artanyan is involved, as is made extra obvious by the camera work which tends to veer wildly away from everyone else. He’s the only one ever shown in consistent mid- or long-shot while fencing, presumably because he’s the only one who doesn’t embarrass himself.
Other book scene rarely included in the movies (because it makes our hero look like a tool) has D’Artanyan shadowing Constance and a disguised Buckingham, under the impression that she’s having an affair with Aramis.
“I love you, but never spy on me again.”
Constance to D’Artanyan, hopefully shortly before printing this on a t-shirt for future reference.
The Cardinal plays the mandolin! At least, I think it’s a mandolin. Alone in his room, like an emo teenager with his first guitar.
“Your name to me
Is manna from heaven
Let the other one
Call you Your Majesty.
To me you are Anna.”
Goddamnit, I hate it when the Cardinal is obsessively in love with the queen, even if it is technically canon – it’s a detail I always approve being ditched from the book because it’s creepy and unnecessary. Now we’re getting a fantasy sequence in which the Cardinal dances with the Queen while dressed as Black Adder. Because this version of Anne of Austria is pretty boss, she rolls her eyes sarcastically at him and sings a song about how he’s an idiot, and she plans to continue her life as a sinner without his affection, EVEN THOUGH THIS IS HIS DREAM.
Oh, Cardinal, even your romantic fantasy is making fun of you.
When he gives Milady the order to go to Buckingham and reclaim the diamond studs so the Cardinal himself can give them back to her Majesty (thus, it is implied, personally humiliating her in public because he lurves her), Milady smirks at him for at least a full minute.
I like that Milady is being treated as an agent here, rather than a vampish seductress. She dresses like a Dick Turpin style highwayman for her missions, and most of her scenes with the Cardinal.
When the Queen realises that she is screwed if she can’t get those diamonds back, she sob-eats a strawberry (it is the most emotional eating of fruit I have ever seen) and then runs through the Palace, singing her pain.
“Madonna this is the end
“Holy Virgin I’m done for,
My Louis is a fool
But Richelieu won’t be fooled.
He has once again
Delved into my secrets.”
It gets better, because after a long moment of prayer and serenading a statue of the Holy Virgin, a funky backbeat starts and the Queen starts dancing around like a wild thing, plotting with renewed vigour and groovy enthusiasm.
“Let me die while I’m young!
Or am I not a Spanish lady?”
Anna, you are THE Spanish lady. Accept no substitutions.
D’Artanyan is now affluent enough to have three hats to choose from when he heads off to save the day (or did Bonancieux just keep conning him into buying them now he’s living above the shop?). He and Constance discuss their plans via a raucous duet in the kitchen, while her husband is sleeping – though of course he wakes up halfway through and discovers her affair with the lodger thanks to said song.
D’ARTANYAN: All the secrets of the Louvre are under the bodice of this incredible lady! And now, to London.
So many of the traditional Musketeer set pieces – like D’Artanyan losing his three Musketeers one by one on their ride to England – are made fresh and new here because of the banging Casio keyboard soundtrack, including downright weird sound effects such as when Aramis apparently mimics the voice of God via ventriloquism to silence his opponents. Crucially, all three Musketeers are separated from D’Artanyan at this time but not wounded which is going to make getting the gang back together a lot more efficient later on.
The Duke of Buckingham lives in what looks like a lighthouse. His servants are all bare-chested pretty black men, and he greets D’Artanyan wearing beaded trousers and a loop of beads worn exactly like every 1970’s gold medallion ever. Oh Buckingham, don’t ever change. The portrait of Queen Anne that Buckingham has on his wall shows her in all her eye-rolling, sarcastic glory. Truly, her best feature is that she is fed up with everyone in this show.
As for the real Anne of Austria, she has plenty of reason to be rolling her eyes, as D’Artanyan is late to the Louvre thanks to accidentally riding back to Paris in slow motion. Thanks to some marvellous trick fencing in high heeled boots on balcony edges, he holds off the Red Guard just long enough for his boys to ride to his rescue and escort him to the Palace.
ALL FOR ONE AND ONE FOR ALL
I’m not even sad that my favourite bit of the novel (the one by one collecting of the fallen Musketeers) is skipped over here, because the song is cheerful and D’Artanyan needs his fellas at his side. Also we’re more than halfway through the entire four and a half hour running time of this thing, and we’re not done with the Queen’s diamonds yet.
The King has a song about how he’s pretty sure he’s being cuckolded, which he sings to the Queen while they make their formal entrance, because he’s classy like that. In retaliation, once D’Artanyan finally turns up with the diamonds, the Queen blings it up with all of them on a single smug and glittery shoulder, while literally singing “Shame on the King” to the sound of clicky castanets.
Castanets are a Spanish lady’s best friend, assholes!
D’Artanyan has a rather touching encounter with the Queen, in which there is much hand-kissing, and they manage to streamline the plot by having her send Constance to a nunnery directly for her own protection. That’s right, this is a version of The Three Musketeers that does not have Constance being kidnapped every five minutes, because who has time for that?
I thought I couldn’t have any more favourite things about this adaptation, but the casual reference to Aramis’ mistress as his ‘seamstress-cousin’ is amazing. Is it too much to hope this is a translation from a single word in Russian? What does it even MEAN?
The Musketeer Bro Song makes me so damn happy. Merci beaucoup indeed. What are the odds of me getting hold of the soundtrack of this movie?.
The BBC series has raised me to be really excited whenever nuns turn up in a Musketeer adaptation, because of the possibility they might be musket-wielding battle nuns. Instead, Milady arrives at the nunnery in the guise of a dishevelled traveller (that Dick Turpin outfit is getting another workout) and throws herself on their hospitality.
Milady then bonds with the nuns by giving them makeovers and pretty accessories, I’m not even kidding about this.
I’m fascinated because this adaptation is so close to the version of the story in the book in so many ways, but the structural changes that have been made which improve the flow of the story greatly.
They can’t be about to kill Constance this early… can they? This is endgame, why is endgame happening only two thirds of the way through the story? What on earth is going to be in Episode 3?
Milady slowly seducing and corrupting nuns through the dispersal of luxury beauty products is pretty amazing, though.
D’Artanyan and the Musketeers arrive at the convent, and climb the walls with far too much enthusiasm. And oh crap, it’s true, Constance is checking out early. Milady poisons and runs – and on her way out, Athos catches sight of her and does a classic double take.
I’m a little amazed at how well it works for them to kill Constance at the ? mark instead of keeping her on ice until the end of the story. It makes her character feel far more important. Obviously I prefer it when they don’t kill Constance at all, but honestly the films which do are BETTER because the boring modern ‘give D’Artagnan a romantic happy ending’ versions never replace her death with something of equal significance, so letting Constance live just pulls MIlady’s teeth. The only ‘Constance lives’ adaptation that I think genuinely sells her survival without diminishing Milady’s role as a villain is Season 1 of the BBC (2014) series, which made the protagonists (including Constance herself) earn that outcome with blood, sweat and tears.
The downside, of course, to killing Constance now is that the joyous adventure has now turned very bleak, with a whole movie-length span of time still to go. D’Artanyan is devastated by her loss, and will now be motivated by anger and vengeance rather than his usual benign feistiness. Meanwhile, Athos is quietly certain that he knows who is responsible for this tragedy.
MUCH SAD. SO GLUM.
“And now among my friends I’m in a desert
What’s left for me of love?
Just a name.
Thank God for your friends, D’Artanyan, and thank God they have swords. Stick with them and I think you’ll be OK.
Oh, going to WAR, fine, that makes sense, I guess there’s enough plot there to fill another hour or more. Off we go to the Siege of La Rochelle. The Cardinal has some mighty fringed orange epaulets which are apparently part of his war outfit. Trendy.
The Queen conveys her distaste of this war entirely through eyebrow flicks and eye-rolls. She is so over your bullshit, men of Paris.
Guess who’s a Musketeer now? D’Artanyan, D’Artanyan is a Musketeer! Treville presents him with a tabard and says he can even be a lieutenant if he distinguishes himself in battle at La Rochelle, which seems overly optimistic. Treville then refuses to explain the war to a highly depressed D’Artanyan on the grounds that it literally doesn’t matter who they are fighting and for what reason.
“But let’s be honest,
A war is always robbery,
Pardon my frankness.”
A remarkably cynical war song about how God probably doesn’t care if the Catholics or the Hugenots have control of La Rochelle.
Up until now, Milady has been presented as a competent agent of the Cardinal without being treated as a sex object, and yet Rochefort starts sexually harassing her only seven minutes into this final episode. Luckily, Milady is from the Anne of Austria school of sarcasm, and doesn’t have any patience for his flirtation.
Meanwhile, Athos is making up for his extreme lack of alcoholism in the previous episodes by downing as much wine as possible. He sits D’Art down to sing to him the tragic tale of the Count de la Fere and his bride, power-ballad style.
It’s a fascinating song, because he keeps singing about lilies in a black pond on the Count’s estate, and at one point you realise that he’s also talking about the fleur-de-lis mark on his wife’s shoulder, and he claims that both the Count and his wife DROWNED IN THE POND, though apparently it was metaphorical for both of them.
Every time I think Athos isn’t my favourite, he always is.
D’Artanyan drags a drunken Athos out to the main room of the Red Dove Inn so they can sing their bro song with Porthos and Aramis, and cheer each other up. It’s adorable.
But of course, Athos has to sneak off and overhear Milady plotting with the Cardinal… and once she is alone, to confront his wife.
It’s a fascinating scene. She literally screams and throws herself on the nearest bed when she sees him, while he retaliates by taking off all his weapons and methodically cleaning and loading his musket at her while they discuss their relationship.
The tension, it sizzles.
Another structure reversal: the wine of Anjou comes after Athos’ confrontation with Milady – or simultaneously, rather, so he only just manages to save D’Artanyan from the poison by letting her escape. Having spent the last year writing a story that corresponds as closely as possible to the original structure of The Three Musketeers, I’m fascinated to see the effect of switching around some of these events in an otherwise super-accurate adaptation. The pacing of this version certainly works better than in the Richard Lester films, which is the only comparable adaptation as far as running time and how much of the original story is jammed in.
Can I just say how much I love that Milady’s hat is better than any of the other Musketeers’ hats? She leaps out of a window on to her horse, Princess Bride style, and takes off in high style with D’Artanyan in pursuit.
Meanwhile, Athos goes off for some manly bonding with the Executioner of Lille…
Kitty is back! The maid has very little to do in this story now that Milady and D’Artanyan aren’t hooking up, but manages to stick her tongue out at her mistress; obviously not a fan.
Milady, meanwhile, is captured by the English while wearing an extraordinary bee-striped fake fur. Her magnificent mane of blonde curls, which should receive credit a character in its own right, comes to the fore in a scene where she tries to convince her captor that she is a truly pious woman – with so much bowing and praying, her wild hair entirely takes over the acting duties.
Cue a sultry, highly sexually-charged song in which Milady sings about what a good Christian she is while writhing against the architecture (just short of pole dancing).
“I have been branded
By my persecutors
My sin is that
I want to die
In my prime.
Ashamed to look in the eyes
There’s no one to protect me.”
Milady brings her performance to an end with an implied strip tease in which she removes no clothing whatsoever, but still manages to hypnotise her guard (Felton, one presumes) into having murderous thoughts about the Duke of Buckingham.
She does like to outsource her assassinations, where possible.
Oh, my mistake, there is actual pole dancing, though it mostly involves the rope rather than the pole.
It took Dumas five chapters to convey what Margarita Terekhova achieves in a single dance number. And that is why musicals are amazing.
Kitty/Kate gets her own song too, as it turns out: she wanders lonely on a nearby beach, crooning lovingly about D’Artanyan’s moustache and his sword. Are they actually fitting in the Milady-D’Artanyan-Kitty love triangle this late in the day? I think they ARE.
D’Artanyan pretends to be in love with Milady as an excuse for seeking her out (I’m here to kill your mistress not the best conversation opener), and a jealous Kitty promptly throws herself at him for some serious snogging. We don’t see what happens next, but she presumably gives him directions to find Milady, and/or doesn’t try to stop him after he shows her a good time in the bushes. Draw your own conclusions.
D’Art breaks into Milady’s prison/beach cottage (possibly it’s both?) with murder in mind. She promptly turns on her panicked drama queen act, reminding him about that time Rochefort made fun of his horse (really now?) and claiming complete innocence plus love for him. Luckily D’Art is not actually that stupid, and won’t let her seduce him into forgetting that she murdered Constance. Also, Athos turns up just in time to make sure no one is making bad life choices. There’s an irony in that.
As Milady is led to her execution, she is still trying to convince D’Artanyan that she is in love with him, despite the fact that this version of the story doesn’t actually include their affair. Obviously she read the book more closely than everyone else, which is probably not a lot of consolation as the Executioner goes after her with his axe, on the shores of a windswept lake.
“In the Count’s park
There’s a black pond
Where lilies blossom…”
So having summarily executed Athos’ wife, the Musketeers relax except for D’Artanyan who is kinda pissed off at the universe. It’s hard to blame him, really.
Athos, with his usual face of blank emotion, convinces him that happiness is hanging out with your friends. What more do they need?
SONG, THEY NEED SONG, THAT’S WHAT THEY NEED.
“We know, we are not children:
Is full of danger
But how can one
Choose not to live,
If you love life
With your body and soul.”
As our boys complete their beautiful quartet, some particularly punchable members of the Red Guard come over, mocking them for their pretty singing. Which is kind of awesome, because the only thing that Musketeers like better than singing love songs to each other is fighting with the Red Guard.
The Cardinal, reflecting on Milady’s fate with Rochefort, decides that the Musketeers are so badass, he wants to be friends with them. Some elaborate slapstick with paperwork later, D’Artanyan becomes a Lieutenant after his friends all turn down the favour. Sure, he’s only been a Musketeer for five minutes, but his moustache is mighty and he carries a tune like no one else.
DRUNKEN BREAKFAST AT THE BASTION, YOU GUYS! Sure, it’s going to kill us all, but at least we’ll go out in style as is only appropriate for the Musketeers who sing and dance. Tiny spatchcock and arquebus shooting for everyone.
“When your friend is bleeding
A la guerre comme
A la guerre!
When your friend is bleeding,
Be there till the end.”
This Musketeer Media Monday post was brought to you by the paid sponsors of Musketeer Space, all 70+ 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)