This wasn’t quite as OTT – “soft porn in cravats and tights” seems to be the expression doing the rounds – as I expected; but, unfortunately, it just wasn’t very entertaining. The best case scenario would have been that it was like The Borgias, which was the same sort of idea – power, intrigue, over-sexed-up, not too much regard for historical accuracy – but was well-written, well-acted, didn’t take itself too seriously and made for genuinely good watching. Sadly, Versailles wasn’t a patch on that. The Carry On films about Henry VIII, the French Revolution and Cleopatra were utterly ridiculous, but they were also brilliantly entertaining. Versailles just wasn’t. It was silly but it wasn’t meant to be silly, and nothing much happened until the end.
Some of it was just … well, stupid. Louis XIV had a dream in which he, looking rather like Adam Ant, and Athenais de Montespan, wearing some sort of 1970s loose white dress, ran through the (as yet unbuilt) Hall of Mirrors in slow motion. It looked like a 1980s advert for a naff brand of toiletries. Then he went galloping off on his horse, a silly grin on his face, and was confronted by three wolves. It was a scene which would have worked brilliantly in one of the Chronicles of Narnia – I was half-expecting Aslan to turn up with a magic bow and arrow – but didn’t work even remotely well in a programme about the 17th century French court. Also, I know that moaning about the English dialogue is a bit daft as obviously they wouldn’t have been speaking English at all, but could the writers not at least have tried to make it sound like a period drama. “We have to go” and “You’ve got my back” … seriously?!
Then it finished up with the black baby storyline. Well, at least that was a bit of drama! It’s funny how these strange stories about royalty come about. It’d be understandable if they were all from the Middle Ages, when there were all sorts of strange stories about all sorts of things doing the rounds, but so many of them are far more recent. Was George III married to Hannah Lightfoot? Did Alexander I of Russia fake his own death so that he could go off and wander around the countryside as a mystic? No, of course not. Did Louis XIV’s queen, Maria Teresa of Spain, have an affair with her black dwarf and give birth to a mixed-race child who then became an abbess – “The Black Nun of Moret”, so the story goes (and apparently an American playwright has recently written a play about it, totally unconnected to the story being revived in Versailles)? No, of course not. “The Black Nun of Moret” did exist, and apparently she claimed to have royal connections, and this somehow seems to have got tangled up with reports from Versailles about the queen, who would not have been having any affairs with anyone, giving birth to a baby (who, like five of her six children, sadly died young) who had a dark complexion, this actually being a purplish-red-looking face presumably due to either a difficult birth or some sort of medical condition. Still, even though it’s not true, at least it was more interesting than most of the rest of the programme.
The one character who did manage to come across as being quite interesting, actually, was Monsieur, the king’s brother. Being Terribly English and therefore used to looking at the court of Louis XIV in the 1660s from the point of view of the court of Charles II in the 1660s, I only ever really think of Monsieur as being the rotten husband who made Minette (Henrietta Anne) unhappy. She was a pretty rotten wife as well, but it’s always him, because he was gay/bisexual, who gets the blame. He was seeming quite an attractive character until we saw him attacking Minette towards the end of the programme – but, sadly, that’s probably not inaccurate. He really is quite interesting, though. The gallant soldier who distinguished himself in battle … and spent a fortune on high-heeled shoes! You couldn’t make him up.
Fabien Marchal, the Nasty Henchman, wasn’t bad either; and the fictional would-be-female-doctor character caught the attention too; but Louis himself was rather insipid, and so was the programme in general. It’ll make headlines because of the “soft porn in cravats and tights” thing, but there wasn’t even all that much of that. These sorts of programmes can be very good, in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. This one, so far, just isn’t. However, it was only the first episode, and, hey, maybe it’ll get better!