Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Versailles, Season 3

George Blagden as Louis XIV
Elisa Lasowski as Queen Marie-Thérèse
The real Queen Marie-Thérèse d'Autriche
The real Louis XIV
Louis (George Blagden) and Madame de Maintenon (Catherine Walker)
Marriage of Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon
Versailles, Season 3 veers more out of the realm of history and into the realm of fantasy than the other seasons, believe it or not. [Spoiler Alert!] For one thing, Louis would never have tempted God by throwing himself off a cliff to prove to himself that he was really King of France. And the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I never visited Versailles; neither did he have an affair with his cousin and sister-in-law the Queen of France. And neither did he poison her. As far as the Vatican goes, the relationship was stormy although it did not involve the Man in the Iron Mask. I must say that having Louis' devout mother Queen Anne sleeping with the Man in the Iron Mask in order to beget both Louis and Philippe is pushing the boundaries of credulity even for imaginative historical fiction. But Louis XIII having a mistress! Louis XIII! I have no words. It is a shame since the writers have so much to work with, including great acting, incomparable sets (French royal palaces), magnificent costumes and  an epoch of history bursting with story-lines. Turning Versailles into the seventeenth-century version of Reign was not necessary. The real history would have been sufficient.

 People have complained that the lurid sex scenes detract so much from the quality of the program. The story could be told better without so much sordid detail, especially when some of the characters involved did not even exist. Plus all the characters look alike when they are naked so it is hard to tell them apart when they are in flagrante delicto. Other than the soft porn, the main problem with the series is that the actress who portrays the Queen is too beautiful. Elisa Lasowski is lovely and plays the part of Louis' neglected wife Marie-Thérèse with dignity. With such a graceful and exquisite wife it is hard to understand why Louis is constantly looking for love elsewhere. It is because in reality, Queen Marie-Thérèse, while sweet and genuinely devoted, was unattractive on many levels. Not that beauty is everything; while Madame de Maintenon was never known as being a great beauty Louis truly loved her and was faithful to her. But Marie-Thérèse was also Louis' double first cousin; she greatly resembled his mother, as anyone can see from the portrait below. Perhaps the strong family resemblance was one among many reasons that Louis was not attracted to Marie-Thérèse. Their close blood relationship is also most likely why all of their children died in early childhood, except the Dauphin, also shown below.
Anne d'Autriche with her niece and daughter-in-law Marie-Thérèse d'Autriche
One merciful reprieve offered by Season 3 is that Louis' brother Philippe d'Orléans is distracted from his usual activities at Versailles in order to go in search of the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask, who turns out to be his putative father. Philippe's ex-paramour the Chevalier de Lorraine becomes involved with a Protestant lady and even goes to prison for her, showing a degree of character that no one knew he possessed. Philippe's wife Liselotte, delightfully played by Jessica Clark, becomes the stabilizing core of the highly dysfunctional family circle. She actually seems happy when Philippe and the Chevalier are reunited at the end, since each of them were almost killed in their mutual adventures involving the Man in the Iron Mask and the Protestants. Meanwhile, Louis and Madame de Maintenon consummate their love, which in real life probably did not happen until after they were married, since the preservation of Madame de Maintenon's virtue was the point of the long restraint.

According to Variety:
Characterizing the unquenchable ambitions of the warrior King, Louis XIV answers that by wanting more. He seeks but fails to gain Papal approval to annex Spain. The Pope’s riposte is to dispatch the oily Cardinal Leto to Versailles. “We created Cardinal Leto as the real villain of the piece – the ultimate focus of Louis’ ire,” said Bampfield and Loane. “A cunning diplomat and ruthless tactician, Leto would stop at nothing to force the maverick into submission – and there’s nothing Louis likes more than a challenge like that.”

Maintenon. Luckily for Louis, he has Madame de Maintenon by his side. “I guess, ultimately, what made him the greatest monarch in the world and didn’t make him burn out was because this extraordinary woman came into his life at the right time,” Blagden has told Variety. (Read more.)
Unfortunately, the exquisite wedding scene of Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon, in the King's private oratory by candlelight, is ruined by interspersing it with scenes of Protestants being arrested as a result of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Similarly, the magnificent scene of the ceremony of the King's touch for the healing of the King's evil is destroyed by a bunch of Protestants trying to shoot Louis. Silliness and smut drag Versailles into the gutter faster than any number of Huguenots or Revolutionaries might have done. It is a shame since there is so much potential for great drama at the palace where the monarchy itself performed a daily drama for the public gaze.

Alexander Vlahos as Monsieur
Jessica Clark as Liselotte or Madame


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