The Musketeers creator and executive producer Adrian Hodges (Primeval, Survivors) introduces BBC One’s new adventure drama.
Launching this month, the ten-part drama series stars Luke Pasqualino (Skins) as D’Artagnan, Santiago Cabrera (Merlin) as Aramis, Tom Burke (The Hour) as Athos, Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) as Cardinal Richelieu and Howard Charles as Porthos.
“Our new series of The Musketeers is based on the famous characters created by Alexandre Dumas – D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, some of the most evocative names in all fiction, names synonymous with adventure, heroism, courage and self-sacrifice. This new version is not an adaptation of the book, but rather a series of new adventures sometimes inspired by the novel, sometimes by the events of the period, and sometimes by more contemporary issues given a historical spin.
“Why not attempt a new adaptation? Of course that was an option, but there have been many, many versions of the book’s justly celebrated story – some wonderful, some not so wonderful – and I simply felt the time was right to do something different with the founding myth of the Musketeers and to do what Dumas himself did with history – respect it, use it wisely, but also have fun with it. I hope Dumas’s spirit will forgive us the liberties we take in this new set of variations on the classic story he created; at all times we tried to be faithful to the spirit of his writing, though clearly not to the letter.
“So why The Musketeers and why now?
“It seemed to me that although the adventure genre, however broadly defined, has remained evergreen in the cinema, it had been a long time since I’d seen anything of this kind on TV, at least outside of the family slots and dark hybrid fantasies like Game Of Thrones. Have we as an audience grown bored with the ideas of courage, selflessness, romance and heroism associated with the genre? I seriously doubt it.
“I suspect, and hope there is a serious appetite for this kind of material amongst the TV audience, something different to police and hospital shows (good as those often are), something that isn’t science fiction but which does take place in a world wildly different and infinitely more exotic than our own.
“Perhaps the problem is that the whole notion of ‘Swashbuckling’ has become fraught with cliché and is full of traps for the unwary. Too often, swashbuckling has become a kind of code word for insubstantial characterisation, endless swordfights which have little or no consequence, and a kind of old-fashioned approach to storytelling which is dull and encrusted with period trappings and lame jokes. To put it simply, too often the adventure genre is lightweight and disposable. It just doesn’t have enough weight to captivate a modern audience that is perhaps more cynical and certainly more aware of storytelling tricks than any before it.
“There are a number of ways to update the genre; you can take the mickey affectionately – as in Pirates Of The Caribbean – or simply transpose everything we used to associate with the swashbuckler and put it in a different genre, as with almost any of the Marvel Superhero films or most Westerns and space-set films. But what I wanted to do was take the genre seriously, provide everything the audience expects from it – period detail, sword fights, muskets, brave and romantic heroes and heroines, enormous risks, rescues at the last minute and so on – and also come up with something that felt, dare I say, relevant.
“In other words I wanted to write something that wasn’t jaded or cynical, and which felt like it mattered, but which also felt modern, exciting and involving, while always trying to respect the conventions of the genre. I didn’t want to write something that was pastiche or satire, nor something that was po-faced and glum. After all, if The Musketeers isn’t romantic, action-packed fun, then what is it?
“There are a number of ways to tackle the concept of modernity in a television adventure drama – Sherlock‘s successful updating is certainly one that stands out. But that kind of outright conversion to the modern era didn’t feel right for The Musketeers; I’m not sure the concept could really make sense outside of its original setting.
“So right from the start I decided we had to keep the framework everyone knows but then bring a certain modern attitude to it, something that acknowledges all the conventions of the genre, while also playing with them, sometimes humorously but never in such a way that we fail to show respect. I love this genre; I don’t want to mock it. I just want it to seem as much fun to modern audiences as it did to me when I first saw Richard Lester’s wonderful version back in the early 1970s.
“My most essential job was to look at the famous characters and give them a fresh look and feeling. Of course, all the characteristics we expect from these four famous names are here but hopefully in ways that will surprise and intrigue. It was a case of looking at the characters in exactly the same way as I would any others I try to create – who are they, really? What matters to them? What secrets do they keep? What world do they live in? What is the true cost of heroism?
“It’s about making them people a modern audience readily recognises and understands: heroes, definitely, but heroes who are not straightforward, who are very human and who recognise that every time they draw their swords, someone, perhaps even them, might die. And die for real.
“Above all I want these stories to matter to the audience; I want them to care passionately about the fate of our leading men and women, to feel invested. That way, the adventures our characters face really mean something, and every sword-fight, every ambush, every romance has real consequences in a world where there are enormous stakes to play for. But at the same time, humour is written into the DNA of these characters and I’ve tried very hard to honour that aspect of the original in ways that will please a modern, sophisticated TV audience without ever taking them out of the reality of the drama they’re watching.
“The Musketeers is a drama – not a comedy, not a pastiche, not a pantomime. Everything about the detail of our world and our characters is as authentic as we can make it, because in the end, if an adventure doesn’t feel real, what’s the point of it?
“When I started this introduction I promised myself I’d avoid glib or too easy summaries of what we’re attempting with this show. But then again, why not? The Musketeers is a swashbuckler with teeth. And hopefully it bites hard and deep.”