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The Lure of Versailles, Season 3
Versailles Season 3: Three Reasons to Watch
I've never been one to watch much episodic television. "Must-See" appointment TV was not for me. Making a date with my couch to see a show every week always felt like too much of a commitment. Yet for many years I paid good money to watch a handful of hundreds of channels.
Recently, I cut the cable cord. While liberating at first, I switched to Internet TV only to find that I no longer had anything to look forward to. Programming my own channels turned out to be even more work than I imagined. For the first time, no one was telling me what to watch so I had to start figuring out what I liked for myself. Luckily for me it was through streaming sites that I discovered Seasons 1 and 2 of the hit British/French produced series Versailles.
And then proceeded to binge the heck out of it.
My initial interest in the show stemmed from a visit to the palace itself. Years ago, while vacationing in Paris, I walked in the gardens, jostling with other tourists in line to gain access to its splendor. Over the years, I'd also seen snippets of the occasional BBC documentary on the subject. From a fictional standpoint, the story of the excesses of Versailles always intrigued me, so why not?
My expectations were low - I was praying for something with production values high enough to be worth watching and not so low as to be dramatically cheesy. I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I was delightfully surprised to find myself drawn into this elaborate, expensive, well-told fictional biography story of all the salaciously scandalous shenanigans at Louis XIV's court.
Three Reasons to Watch Versailles Season 3
1. Plot (Attention All History Junkies):
Versailles covers the lives of a young King Louis XIV and his emotionally complicated, tangled relationships with members of his court, including his binding but controlling brotherhood with his gay sibling Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, his wives and seven mistresses.
When the King's court is essentially relocated from Paris to the countryside to the dismay of most of its population, drama ensues. Creative license abounds in this series yet most of the plotlines portrayed accurately parallel historical facts (with, some of the cast would say, up to 90% accuracy). Questionable plots twists include the Queen of Versailles, Maria Theresa of Spain, giving birth to a baby sired by her black, short servant (historically it is noted that the child may have instead been stillborn), the number of calculated political murders as well as Season 2 dedication to dozens of civilian poisonings and suicides. King Louis XIV had a tribe of loyal henchmen as well, political advisors and security, whose sole purpose seems to be devoted to protecting their leader and the status quo, while protecting the King's fanatic vision of making Versailles the destination capital of the world. Their dealings with court life are depicted in the series more like a suspense thriller than historical fiction. Along with the intrigue there is plenty of romance, sex (yes, nudity included - this is after all a French production), as well as funny comedic moments played in the tone of the day.
2. Production (For All Royalty Geeks):
Filmed primarily in the castle of opulence that is Versailles in France (on Mondays when the castle is closed), this production is also shot in satellite castles in the surrounding areas. This gives the material an authenticity it would not have on a green screen or a film set. If luxury and sumptuousness is your thing, feel free to swoon: The costumes are custom made to order for each actor/character - from scratch - and you can see the elaborate historical details that went into the making of their attire.
Also impressive is that the producers really went all out in terms of the scale of the series as if it were a large-budget film with no expense spared. The global marketing strategy was to film it in English so that it would have international appeal. Thus far that seems to be working. Versailles is now seen in multiple countries, premiering November 2015 on Canal+ in France and on Super Channel in Canada, on BBC2 in Britain, and on Ovation in the U.S. in 2016. (Seasons 1 and 2 are now on Netflix).
3. Performance (Where to start...?):
Online reviewers have compared this series to House of Cards or Downton Abbey. Having seen neither, I assume this is because of the compelling storylines and great acting.
The young cast of Versailles brings their A-Game to the table. The closest relationships involve three men - King Louis XIV (studiously and empathetically played by George Blagden of the Vikings series), his brother and warrior Prince Phillippe (embodied beautifully by Alex Vlahos, best known for Merlin) and Philippe’s lover Le Chevalier (the hilarious and heart-breakingly campy Evan Williams). All three portray the brotherhood of love between men in a raw, real and genuine way. The women are not too shabby either: From the Queen of Spain (a serious and pious Elisa Lasowski) to Louis' mistress Françoise-Athénaïs, Marquise de Montespan (deliciously played by Anne Brewster), each of the women in the King's life play a role in his Divine purpose. Included in the superb acting is a lot of intense emotional dysfunction, plotting and sexual pastimes - all done with great passion and nary a hint of soap opera antics.
Season 3 - Coming Soon to a Cable Channel Near You
Rumor has it that Season 3 of Versailles opens after Louis has won a war with Holland and a mysterious prisoner, hidden behind a mask, presents a new threat to the King. The story is based on The Man in the Iron Mask inspired by rumors circulating at the time of the King's possible illegitimate brother.
Recently completed, Versailles will premiere at the Cannes Film festival on April 4, ahead of its Canal+ debut and eventual airing on BBC in the UK and Ovation in the U.S. It has also been announced that this will be the final season of the Versailles series.
Perhaps this is Must-See TV after all.