These are almost my all time favourite films (almost, but not quite – that honour goes to 1989’s Dangerous Liaisons). They have everything – perfect cast, great action set pieces, humour and the best 17th Century costumes yet to be portrayed on screen.
Of all the 'Musketeer' films made, many people believe these to be the most faithful to the original 1844 book by Alexandre Dumas.
With a screenplay by George McDonald Fraser and directed by Richard Lester, these films are a joy to watch. There's something for everyone - action set pieces for the boys, romance and pretty dresses for the girls, heroes to cheer and baddies to hiss, all with a good dollop of humour along the way. Everyone involved just looks like they're having so much fun. The films don't shy away from tragedy either. Spoilers - not everyone gets a happy ending.
Anyone who was anyone in the 1970s acting world is in this film. The casting decisions are certainly eclectic – from Hollywood legend Charlton Hester to British comic genius Spike Milligan, via Hammer Horror’s Count Dracula Christopher Lee. Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, Geraldine, also makes an appearance as Queen Anne. There are just too many good actors to name them all.
But let’s look at the heart of the film – the musketeers themselves. Michael York as naïve country bumpkin D’artagnan plays it perfectly. He’s like an adorable, overenthusiastic puppy, rushing from one adventure to the next with little thought for the consequences. He also captures the arrogance of youth perfectly. Heartthrob Richard Chamberlain is handsome, suave and debonair as Aramis. Frank Finlay’s Porthos is a bullish buffoon but good natured with it.
And surely, Athos was the role Oliver Reed was born to play – a complicated man, frequently drunk but hiding heartache deep inside.
And then there’s Faye Dunaway’s Milady de Winter – the best portrayal of the character, like, ever. And I will fight anyone who says otherwise (obviously with a poisoned dagger or lethal jewelled hair ornament!) Put simply, Dunaway’s Milady is vicious, she has no redeeming features. Possessed of glacial beauty she has an iceberg of a heart to match. As she ruthlessly plots the demise of her enemies, you get the impression that even master villain Cardinal Richelieu is slightly disgusted by her heartless passion for revenge.
The one false step is Raquel Welch as love interest Constance. She just can’t keep up with the rest of the talented cast. And in a film which takes great pains to really look the part, Ms Welch is just too 1970s Hollywood – all teeth, tits and tan.
This film looks amazing. You really believe you have stepped back in time. You can almost smell the 17th Century.
The scenes set at the royal court are ridiculous, but intentionally so. Bored aristos, beautifully dressed, are waited on by an army of servants, labouring unconditionally for their superiors’ spoilt comfort and leisure.
But it’s not all fancy dresses at court. Paris’ underbelly is also brought grubbily to life. There are scenes set in taverns, laundries and army camps. Little girls watch teeth being painfully drawn, preachers preach with bowls of fire on their heads (that really happened, but the preacher was completely starkers!) and bets are laid on everything – from the outcome of a boisterous tennis match to which hungry beggar can climb up a greasy pole to reach a basket of food. The 17th century really was that crazy, and this film revels in it. And so should we!
Costume designer Yvonne Blake did an excellent job on these films. The costumes feel like real clothes which might have been wore 400 years ago. Its obvious Ms Blake did her research. And there’s no shying away from styles which might be perceived as ugly by a modern audience. Slender young actresses are dressed in huge sleeves, high waists and weird hats. And they still look gorgeous.
The musketeers all dress in sensible, uniform black, with minor differences to denote character. The king, queen, Duke of Buckingham and other courtiers’ costumes are suitably lavish. I really like the fact that several scenes involving the royal court are colour themed, such as the ball where everyone wears white, silver and shades of grey, with animal inspired headdresses (I so want an invite to that ball).
Have I mentioned yet that Milady is my 17th Century fashion icon? She just has the best dresses ever. She’s dressed in variations of white, cream or silver, very pale and so, so demure (in contrast to her black, black heart). I love the fact in one scene she wears a montero (Spanish hunting cap), which just looks odd until you realise such hats were definitely wore during this period of history (my re-enactment group wore monteros as part of their uniform).
All the period details are present and correct. Costumes have lace, embroidery, and ribbon rosettes. Everyone wears appropriate hats and have other accessories worn in the right way. The hairdressing is suitably period, and makeup is subtle and natural looking.
Having said all that the costumes aren’t perfect. Milady doesn't wear a smock under her bodies – though the films do get extra points for her bum roll and busk (which I always thought was a dagger when I was younger). Shirts button down the front in a modern way unlike period shirts which were put on over the head. There are other little anachronisms along the way, but these are just minor quibbles in the wider scheme of things.
And yet, one character sticks out like a sore thumb. You’ve guessed it – it’s Raquel Welch again! She was a massive star at the time and insisted that her then boyfriend designed her costumes for her. And it shows. Compared to the excellent costumes designed by Yvonne Blake, Welch's outfits come across as more fancy dress than proper 17th Century clothes.
Return of the Musketeers (1989)
Richard Lester reunited with many of the original cast members to make a film of Dumas's 'Twenty Years Later', a sequel to his first book featuring the musketeers.
Tragedy struck during filming when Roy Kinnear (playing faithful Planchet) fell off his horse and died.
This time, our old friends and heroes are older and have gone their separate ways. With Milady dealt with at the end of the last film, it's left to her 'secret' daughter to cause all the trouble. This is a change to the original story where Milady has a son instead.
When the film was released it was business as usual. Lester tried to conjure the same old magic as the first two films but somehow, it doesn't quite work. We'd seen it all before, even some of the set pieces and extras' asides felt lifted from the original films.
It's a similar story with the costumes. Although Yvonne Blake was back on board as designer, somehow the costumes just aren't quite 'there'. They're still way better than most films set during this era but don't quite match up to the original costumes from the 1970s.
My biggest complaint is that for some characters time doesn't seem to have moved on. Main villain Justin is still wearing the huge sleeves and hats which her mother wore twenty years ago. In fact, her best outfit (and most fashionable for 1649) is the one where she's dressed as a 'puritan' to meet Oliver Cromwell.
If you're in the mood for some boys own adventure with some gorgeous frocks you can't go wrong with these versions of the classic tale. In my opinion two perfect family movies for a Sunday afternoon.