Winter nights and period romps go hand in hand, so step forward BBC One’s series The Musketeers.
Writer Adrian Hodges and lead cast members tell all about bringing a contemporary twist to this well-loved yarn.
Some might think The Musketeers has been done to death but not the BBC, who’ve thrown serious money at an epic series that promises to liven up our wet and miserable Saturday nights over the next 10 weeks.
Their confidence surely stems from the writer and producer Adrian Hodges - but he admits he tackled the project with a little trepidation. Not because he thinks people have lost interest in the swashbuckling genre, but rather the notion has become fraught with cliche or, as he puts it, “full of traps for the unwary”.
“Swashbuckling’s become a kind of code word for insubstantial characterisation, endless sword fights 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,” says 56-year-old Hodges, who co-created Primeval and wrote the screenplay for My Week With Marilyn.
“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.”
So Hodges set about writing a series that had all the hallmarks associated with the heroic 17th century characters - Athos, Porthos and Aramis and their protege D’Artagnan, the friends who live by the motto ‘all for one and one for all’ - but felt relevant to today’s viewers.
“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.”
While the series isn’t a straight adaptation of The Three Musketeers, the novel by Alexandre Dumas published in 1844, it’s heavily inspired by the original.
Cut to Prague last summer and Luke Pasqualino, who came to prominence as Freddie McClair in Skins, is enjoying some much-needed time off from the set. “It’s absolutely vital to be here [filming]. To do something like this in England would never have worked,” says the 23-year-old who plays D’Artagnan, the young man who leaves for Paris in order to join the revered Musketeers of the Guard.
Before getting started, Pasqualino watched the numerous adaptations that have been made over the years, “to see what other people had done and how the Musketeers had been portrayed” - though he hints that his interpretation of his character’s a little more hot-headed than others.
“I tried to put that out there,” he says. “He is a desperate romantic at heart, as well.”
Before filming began, the cast embarked on ‘Musketeer boot camp’. “We stayed in a castle for a week outside of Prague,” explains Pasqualino. “There were fitness tests, getting up at stupid o’clock, horse riding for two hours, coming back to do two hours of sword fighting and then a short lunch, then repeating the horse riding and sword fighting, it was non-stop!”
Exhausting as it was, it was the most valuable week of the shoot. “It put us in great stead for the rest of the show,” the actor adds. “And it was great for us to bond and become friends. You take that energy on set - it really works - and that’s evident in every episode.”
The first ‘Musketeer’ Pasqualino met was Howard Charles, 30, the theatre actor who depicts Porthos.“Instead of the fat, drunk gambler, Adrian wanted to make Porthos the warrior in the group, paying homage to Alexandre Dumas’s father, who was a General,” reveals Charles.