‘The Musketeers’ Episode 1: ‘Friends and Enemies’ review

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Adrian Hodges’ adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ novel occupies the post-Sherlock Sunday evening slot on BBC One and it looks the part. Prague doubles for a lived-in Seventeenth Century Paris, and the fight scenes are stylish and kinetic. A strong and charismatic cast delivers, though ultimately the end product is solid rather than exceptional.

Unsurprisingly for a BBC period drama, the historical setting looks great. It’s another television show that looks like it belongs on the big screen. The three Musketeers – while you might not remember which one is which by the end of the episode – do at least divide nicely into Card Cheat, Sex Cheat and Troubled One.

So far only Tom Burke’s Athos has a backstory, an accusation of murder hanging over him, and something to do other than swagger, although it’s fairly easy to put two and two together before a reveal comes at the end of the episode. For now though, we have four easy-on-the-eye men who can trade nonchalant one-liners. In a slightly grim world, where violent murder, frozen corpses, affairs and backstabbing are commonplace, it’ll be good to lighten the tone occasionally.

The fourth Musketeer, Skins star Luke Pasqualino’s D’Artagnan, is characteristically impetuous, handy with a sword, and staggeringly earnest. As there are a fair few characters to get through, not everyone gets a moment, being lightly sketched in for now. Maimie McCoy’s Milady de Winter is more detailed than most, her motivations clear until her final scene (the kind of thing that’s designed to reveal character, but which no-one would ever actually do). Tamla Kari’s Constance is perhaps implausibly helpful, but reacts to the Musketeers daily bouts of violence and death with realistic horror.

Sometimes the dialogue is a little too on the nose, with characters spelling out their motivations in large friendly sentences. King Louis XIII is child-like, bored and arrogant, but terrified of the outside world. You get that from Ryan Gage’s performance, but then the character just says so to Cardinal Richelieu. Peter Capaldi underplays the role, one that usually brings out Large Acting from a performer. We’re in no uncertain terms that he’s ruthless, though potential shocks are signposted and don’t have the impact they might.

Still, it’s early days yet. As an opening episode, it sets the groundwork and tells an entertaining tale, but even without a knowledge of the original it’s a predictable plot, with occasional contrivances and some dialogue clunking like a cheap drawer. The Musketeers could have been decidedly forgettable, but the actors and production crew deserves plaudits. Steady foundations have been laid, so while it doesn’t soar, it doesn’t plummet either.

With a further nine episodes to come, Hodges is wise enough not to try to get the show running before it can walk. Hopefully The Musketeers will pick up some speed as it goes along.

Aired at 9pm on Sunday 19 January 2014 on BBC One.

> Order Series 1 on DVD on Amazon.

> Order Series 1 on Blu-ray on Amazon.

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