Film Review – THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989)

THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (UK/France/Spain, 1989) ***
      Distributor: Entertainment Film Distributors; Production Company: Fildebroc / Ciné 5 / Sofica / Timothy Burrill Productions / Iberoamericana Films Producción; Release Date: 25 August 1989 (UK), 3 April 1991 (USA) (TV); Filming Dates: 22 August 1988 – October 1988; Running Time: 102m; Colour: Rankcolor; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo; Film Format: 35mm; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Richard Lester; Writer: George MacDonald Fraser (based on the novel “Twenty Years After” by Alexandre Dumas); Executive Producer: Wayne Drizin, Mario Sotela; Producer: Pierre Spengler; Director of Photography: Bernard Lutic; Music Composer: Jean-Claude Petit; Film Editor: John Victor-Smith; Casting Director: Debbie McWilliams, Concha Campins; Production Designer: Gil Parrondo; Art Director: Raul Paton; Set Decorator: Michael Seirton; Costumes: Yvonne Blake; Make-up: José Antonio Sánchez, Cynthia Cruz; Sound: Les Wiggins; Special Effects: Reyes Abades.
      Cast: Michael York (D’Artagnan), Oliver Reed (Athos), Frank Finlay (Porthos), C. Thomas Howell (Raoul), Kim Cattrall (Justine de Winter), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anne), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Philippe Noiret (Cardinal Mazarin), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Eusebio Lázaro (Duke of Beaufort), Alan Howard (Oliver Cromwell), David Birkin (Louis XIV), Bill Paterson (Charles I), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Cyrano de Bergerac), Billy Connolly (Caddie), Servane Ducorps (Olympe), William J. Fletcher (De Guiche), Laure Sabardin (Chevreuse), Marcelline Collard (Lamballe), Pat Roach (French Executioner), Jesús Ruyman (Headsman), Fernando De Juan (Ireton), Barry Burgues (Young Clerk), Leon Greene (Captain Groslow), Ágata Lys (Duchesse de Longueville), Bob Todd (High Bailiff), Lucy Hardwick (Lady-in-Waiting), Aldo Sambrell (Burly Demonstrator), Jack Taylor (Gentleman on Horseback), Ricardo Palacios (Big Lackey), Luciano Federico (Tall Lackey), Carmen Fernández (Commedia player), Rafael de la Cruz (Commedia player), German Estebas (Commedia player), Jesús García (Commedia player), Fernando Simón (Commedia player).
      Synopsis: It’s 1649: Mazarin hires the impoverished D’Artagnan to find the other musketeers: Cromwell has overthrown the English king, so Mazarin fears revolt, particularly from the popular Beaufort.
      Comment: Lacks the heart of the director’s 1973/4 adaptation of THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, partly due to the tragic death of Kinnear from a riding accident during filming. Other problems are in the rushed nature of the story which is crammed from a thick novel into less than two hours of screen time. York provides linking narration in case the viewer gets lost through the rapidly changing setting and plot developments. The story feels incohesive as a result. On the plus side are the energetic sword fights and a returning cast trying their best to keep the adventure spirited. Cattrall makes for a game villain and York, Reed, Finlay and Chamberlain are engaging as the musketeers. Great location work and natural photography add to technical merits.

Film Review – THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (THE REVENGE OF MILADY) (1974)

Image result for the four musketeers swordfightTHE FOUR MUSKETEERS (THE REVENGE OF MILADY) (Spain/Panama/USA/UK, 1974) ****½
     Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox (USA), Fox-Rank (UK); Production Company: Alexander, Michael and Ilya Salkind Productions / Film Trust S.A. / Este Films; Release Date: 26 February 1975 (USA), 25 March 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: May-September 1973; Running Time: 108m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35 mm (Eastman 100T 5254); Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
     Director: Richard Lester; Writer: George MacDonald Fraser (based on the novel “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas); Executive Producer: Ilya Salkind, Alexander Salkind (uncredited); Producer:  Ilya Salkind, Michael Salkind (both uncredited); Associate Producer: Wolfdieter von Stein; Director of Photography: David Watkin; Music Composer: Lalo Schifrin; Film Editor: John Victor-Smith; Production Designer: Brian Eatwell; Art Director: Leslie Dilley, Fernando González; Costumes: Yvonne Blake; Make-up: José Antonio Sánchez, Cristóbal Criado, Charlene Roberson; Sound: Don Challis, Don Sharpe; Special Effects: Pablo Pérez; Visual Effects: Doug Ferris (uncredited).
     Cast: Oliver Reed (Athos), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonancieux), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Michael York (D’Artagnan), Frank Finlay (Porthos), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anne of Austria), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Louis XIII), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Michael Gothard (Felton), Nicole Calfan (Maid Kitty), Ángel del Pozo (Jussac), Eduardo Fajardo (Captain), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu), Sybil Danning (Eugenie), Gitty Djamal (Beatrice), Jack Watson (Busigny), Bob Todd (Firing Squad Officer), Tom Buchanan (Firing Squad Sergeant), Leon Greene (Swiss Officer), Lucy Tiller (Mother Superior), Norman Chappell (Submarine Inventor), Richard Adams (Tortured Thug), Tyrone Cassidy (English Officer).
     Synopsis: D’Artagnan has become a Musketeer. Protestants hold La Rochelle, and the Queen loves Buckingham, who’ll soon send ships to support the rebels. Richelieu enlists Rochefort to kidnap Constance, the Queen’s go-between and D’Artagnan’s love. The Cardinal uses the wily, amoral Milady de Winter to distract D’Artagnan. But soon, she is D’Artagnan’s sworn enemy, and she has an unfortunate history with Athos as well.
     Comment: Shot at the same time as THE THREE MUSKETEERS (THE QUEEN’S DIAMONDS) – originally it was intended to be one long film with an intermission – this segment covers the second half of Dumas’ novel. As such the tone is slightly darker although the spirit of the first half still permeates via some swashbuckling set pieces, battle scenes and nifty pieces of comedy. The stakes have been raised as Dunaway’s Milady seeks revenge on York’s D’Artagnan and Welch’s Constance after they foiled her attempts to discredit Chaplin’s Queen Anne. Once again the sumptuous production and costume design are wonderfully captured by Watkin’s radiant cinematography and enhanced by Schifrin’s boisterous score. Reed and Dunaway come to the fore and their scenes together add significant depth to the drama. The finale as the Musketeers fight Lee’s Rochefort and the Cardinal’s guards contains some of the best sword fighting in screen history.
     Notes: Followed by THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989).

Film Review – THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973)

Related imageTHE THREE MUSKETEERS (THE QUEEN’S DIAMONDS) (Spain/USA/Panama/UK, 1973) ****½
     Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures; Production Company: Alexander, Michael and Ilya Salkind Productions  / Film Trust S.A. / Este Films; Release Date: 25 March 1974 (UK), 28 March 1974 (USA); Filming Dates: May-September 1973; Running Time: 105m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm (Eastman 100T 5254); Film Process: Panavision, Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: U – Contains mild violence and innuendo.
     Director: Richard Lester; Writer: George MacDonald Fraser (based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas); Executive Producer: Ilya Salkind, Alexander Salkind (uncredited), Michael Salkind (uncredited), Pierre Spengler; Producer: Ilya Salkind; Associate Producer: Wolfdieter von Stein; Director of Photography: David Watkin; Music Composer: Michel Legrand; Music Supervisor: ; Film Editor: John Victor-Smith; Casting Director: Miriam Brickman (uncredited); Production Designer: Brian Eatwell; Art Director: Leslie Dilley, Fernando González; Costumes: Yvonne Blake; Make-up: José Antonio Sánchez, Cristóbal Criado, Charlene Roberson; Sound: Don Challis, Don Sharpe; Special Effects: Pablo Pérez; Visual Effects: .
     Cast: Oliver Reed (Athos), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonacieux), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Michael York (D’Artagnan), Frank Finlay (Porthos / O’Reilly), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anna), Jean-Pierre Cassel (King Louis XIII), Spike Milligan (M. Bonacieux), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Georges Wilson (Treville), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu), Joss Ackland (D’Artagnan’s Father), Nicole Calfan (Kitty), Michael Gothard (Felton), Sybil Danning (Eugenie), Gitty Djamal (Beatrice), Ángel del Pozo (Jussac), Rodney Bewes (Spy), Ben Aris (1st Musketeer), William Hobbs (Assassin), Gretchen Franklin (D’Artagnan’s Mother), Francis De Wolff (Sea Captain).
     Synopsis: The young D’Artagnan (York) arrives in Paris with dreams of becoming a King’s Musketeer. He meets and quarrels with three men, Athos (Reed), Porthos (Finlay), and Aramis (Chamberlain), each of whom challenges him to a duel. D’Artagnan finds out they are Musketeers and is invited to join them in their efforts to oppose Cardinal Richelieu (Heston), who wishes to increase his already considerable power over King Louis XIII (Cassel). D’Artagnan must also juggle affairs with the charming Constance Bonacieux (Welch) and the passionate Lady De Winter (Dunaway), a secret agent for the Cardinal.
     Comment: A joie-de-vivre permeates every frame of Lester’s definitive adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic adventure novel. This represents the first half of the story with the second following a year later. The result is a supremely entertaining swashbuckler filled with great sword fights, delicious humour, authentic production design and costumes. The whole cast enter into the spirit of the production with note-perfect performances, whilst Lester’s spirited direction and Watkin’s sumptuous cinematography make for a visual delight. York, Reed, Chamberlain and Finally are well cast as the Musketeers whilst Welch demonstrates a gift for comedy as York’s love interest. Heston is obviously enjoying himself as the scheming Cardinal Richelieu and Dunaway shows promise of what she would go on to deliver in the follow-up.
     Notes: Lester shot the film in conjunction with its sequel, THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974). Originally intended as a single film, the split prompted a lawsuit from the cast demanding payment for both films.

Book Review – THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844) by Alexandre Dumas

THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844) *****
by Alexandre Dumas
Translated by Lawrence Ellsworth (2018)
This edition published by Pegasus, 2018, 814pp (760pp)
Interior Design by Sabrina Plomitallo-Gonzalez
ISBN: 978-1-64313-040-8
includes an introduction by Lawrence Ellsworth; Dramatis personae: Historical Characters; Notes on the Text; Illustrations by Maurice Leloir.
      Blurb: A new and vibrant translation of Alexandre Dumas’s renowned The Three Musketeers, following the adventures of the valiant d’Artagnan and his three loyal comrades. The novel’s fast-moving story is set in the royal court of Louis XIII, where the swaggering King’s Musketeers square off against their rivals: the crimson-clad Guards of the dreaded Cardinal Richelieu. The Red Duke rules France with an iron hand in the name of King Louis and of Queen Anne, who dares a secret love affair with France s enemy, England s Duke of Buckingham. Into this royal intrigue leaps the brash d’Artagnan, a young swordsman from the provinces determined to find fame and fortune in Paris. Bold and clever, in no time the youth finds himself up to his Gascon neck in adventure, while earning the enduring friendship of the greatest comrades in literature, the Three Musketeers: noble Athos, sly Aramis, and the giant, good-hearted Porthos.
      Comment: This brand new translation of Dumas’ classic adventure is by Lawrence Ellsworth, a student of Dumas’ fiction who had translated the Dumas rarity The Red Sphinx for the first time into the English language the previous year. Ellsworth’s expertise is evident throughout this vibrant new take on Dumas’ most celebrated novel. Having previously read the novel in a translation by Lord Sudeley, I was impressed by Ellsworth’s slant on the prose making it immediately more accessible whilst staying honest to Dumas. Any translation is reflective of the period in which the translator is operating and the only other recent translation was Richard Pevear’s 2006 take on the story. That too was well-received, but most commentators now acknowledge Ellsworth’s as the definitive version for a contemporary readership. The story seems to open up more and the often clumsy dialogue interpretations from previous versions are replaced with flowing, witty and elegant wordplay that more accurately reflects the characters. Re-reading the book has further cemented it as the classic it undoubtedly is – with its sweeping themes of romance, courage, vengeance, war, political intrigue and bold adventure irresistible. The dramatic finale is unforgettable and Ellsworth expertly captures the building tension. The intention is for Ellsworth to work through the remaining novels featuring Dumas’ musketeers, with Twenty Years After having just been re-published in hardback. For anyone who has never read The Three Musketeers, this is the version to go for.

Book Review – THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS (2007) by Sarah D’Almeida

THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS (2007) ***
by Sarah D’Almeida (Sarah Hoyt)
Published by Berkley, 2007, 332pp (315pp)
Cover Art: Rick Farrell
Cover Design: Steven Ferlauto
Interior Text Design: Tiffany Estreicher
ISBN: 978-0-425-21489-3
includes 10-page preview of THE MUSKETEER’S APPRENTICE.
      Blurb: Aramis emerges from the water closet to find his lover, a duchess, murdered on her bed. The room is locked, and Aramis is the only one who could have entered it. He’s sure he didn’t do it, but no one else believes him. Even Monsieur de Treville, Captain of Musketeers, doubts Aramis’s word. Aramis must leave Paris and go on the run, entrusting the solving of the murder, and the defence of his honour, his freedom and his very life to Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan. Can “one for all” carry the day when every powerful person in France believes Aramis a murderer and when powerful interests would gladly frame Aramis for it?
     Comment: Being a huge fan of Alexandre Dumas’ THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1844), I was delighted to find a series of books featuri8ng the characters written by Sarah Hoyt under the pseudonym of Sarah D’Almeira. THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS is the second book in a series of five, in which Dumas’ Musketeers effectively act as detectives looking to solve mysteries in 1620s France. The books are set within the timeframe of Dumas’ novel and so include real-life historical figures as well as original Dumas characters. This particular story is basically a locked room mystery, with Aramis seemingly the only possible suspect in the murder of his mistress, necessitating the Musketeers having to work to clear his name. The writing style emulates that of Dumas without being slavish to it. Whilst written in the third person, the story is told from the point of view of each of the Musketeers as they look for clues to unravel the mystery and fight duels with the Cardinal’s guards who are looking to hunt down Aramis. Whilst this approach retains the key mystery novel device of putting the reader in the head of the detective, it also constrains the story by not opening it up to the wider cast of characters. Cardinal Richelieu, who is at the centre of the investigation, only appears in the closing chapter. This robs the story of the scale and tension between the characters that Dumas managed to create in his original novel. That said, this is still an enjoyable read and is recommended to fans of Dumas and historical mysteries.

The Musketeer Mysteries series:
1. Death of a Musketeer (Berkley, November 2006, ISBN 0-425-21292-0)
2. The Musketeer’s Seamstress (Berkley, April 2007, ISBN 978-0-425-21489-3) ***
3. The Musketeer’s Apprentice (Berkley, September 2007, ISBN 978-0-425-21769-6)
4. A Death in Gascony (Berkley, April 2008, ISBN 978-0-425-22101-3)
5. Dying by the Sword (Berkley, December 2008, ISBN 978-0-425-22461-8)

TV Review – THE MUSKETEERS (2014-6)

THE MUSKETEERS (2014-2016, UK, Colour, 30 X 60m episodes) ∗∗∗∗

Cast: Tom Burke (Athos); Santiago Cabrera (Aramis); Peter Capaldi (Cardinal Richelieu – series one only); Howard Charles (Porthos); Alexandra Dowling (Anne of Austria); Ryan Gage (King Louis XIII); Tamla Kari (Constance Bonacieux); Maimie McCoy (Milday de Winter); Luke Pasqualino (D-Artagnan); Hugo Speer (Captain Treville); Marc Warren (Rochefort – series two only); Matthew McNulty (Grimaud – series three only); Rupert Everett (Governor Feron – series three only).

Created by Adrian Hodges
Executive Producers: Jessica Pope; Adrian Hodges (series one and two); Simon Allen & Simon J. Ashford (series three)
Music: Murray Gold, Paul Englishby

Series One (2014) ∗∗∗½
Set on the streets of 17th Century Paris, the Musketeers, Athos, Aramis and Aorthos, are far more than merely royal bodyguards for King Louis XIII; they are inseparable, loyal unto death and committed to upholding justice. when D’Artagnan arrives in Paris to avenge his father’s death he soon impresses the three Musketeers and quickly discovers kindred spirits in these boisterous soldiers. Together they must fight for honour, for valour and for love, whilst outwitting the shadowy Cardinal Richelieu.

Series Two (2015) ∗∗∗∗½
The Musketeers return in a stunning second series that explodes from the screen with more thrills, action and adventure than ever before. As France teeters on the brink of war with Spain, the death of Cardinal Richelieu has left a void that could yet be filled by an even darker threat. More mercurial and combustible than the Cardinal, Rochefort has a concealed agenda that may bring the whole realm to ruin. Vividly evoking the grit and grime of 17th century Paris’s mean streets, this gripping take on the iconic classic is visually spectacular and bursting with invention.

Series Three (2016) ∗∗∗½
Heroes on the battlefield, the Musketeers return from the Spanish front to a Paris seething with resentment, a city on the brink of starvation. The corrupt Governor Feron has been running the capital for his own ends, aided by the brutal Red Guard. But behind Feron hides an even greater menace. Lucien Grimaud is a vicious gangster with a powerful hold over the governor. While Feron might be reasoned with, Grimaud deals only in chaos and rage. Ordered to the heart of this simmering crisis, the Musketeers must face their most treacherous test yet. It’s a task that will challenge their allegiances to the crown, throw their personal lives into turmoil and compromise their loyalty to those they love – and to each other.

A series that started a little shakily in trying to establish a serious tone amidst the good humoured banter and the swashbuckling action, ultimately found its stride during a riveting second series dominated by Warren’s colossal performance as the scheming spy Rochefort. The final series took an even darker turn but drained a little of the good humour and spark from between the leads. A splendid penultimate episode set us up for a fan-pleasing finale that would tug at the heartstrings and thrill in even measures. Mixing standalone episodes and both season and series long plot threads concerning intrigue in the palace, it was always interesting and often enthralling. The cast was strong with Maimie McCoy making an alluring and evil Milady, whilst Burke is perfect as the brooding Athos. Gage was delightfully eccentric as King Louis and Dowling stoic as Anne, who has a secret she must keep from the King. The location work and photography are superb and give the series its authentic and rewarding period feel.

A blu-ray of series three alongside a collection BD box-set containing all three series will be released on Monday 15 August and comes highly recommended.