Versailles

This French and Canadian co-production about the early years of Louis XIV at Versailles was shot, somewhat surprisingly, entirely in English with Anglophone actors.

Louis, in his mid-20s, is King without question but not yet politically secure.  He conceives the idea of moving the court from Paris to what had been a royal hunting lodge at Versailles, less for the scenery than for the ability to force all the nobles to live at court, away from what might be independent power centers on their home estates.  In this, he was ultimately successful.  Louis literally invented the modern French state, centralized with a strong chief executive — an approach to organizing government that survived the Revolution and still influences the operation of the  French government today.

Is there sex on this show?  Mais oui — we are talking about Louis XIV.  But it’s much more restrained than the Tudors or the Borgias, which bordered on soft-core porn.  And while there are a few kinky interactions, there are no rapes (looking at you, Outlander).  Louis is presented as a stand-up guy who retained some affection for his mistresses even after he tired of them, and provided for their children, which I believe is historically accurate.  And his wife has surprisingly good relationships with his mistresses, which I think is historically accurate too.

As for the rest, the show engages in the “true rumor” school of historical drama.  If a historical personage dies suddenly amid rumors of poisoning, the show treats it as a poisoning.  The female doctor whose medical knowledge was about 200 years ahead of her time was a bit much — perhaps there’s a time-travel subplot they haven’t told us about?  On the other hand, the use of an “advanced” doctor is a pretty common device in period shows — it spares modern audiences the true horrors of period-appropriate medicine.

The interactions between Louis, his brother Phillippe, and Phillippe’s wife Henrietta of England are some of the most interesting in the show.  There is no evidence that Louis slept with Henrietta, but since Phillipe was quite openly gay, who knows?

Phillipe, by the way, was regarded by his contemporaries as a flamboyant dresser.  In an era where “straight” men wore lace collars and cuffs, high-heel shoes and shoulder-length curls, he must have been really something.  The costumers wisely dialed that back a bit.

The cast of lesser-known actors is pretty good.  The plot meanders a bit, but it’s not too hard to keep track of what’s going on.

Best of all, this show looks fantastic. Many of the exteriors are actually shot at Versaiiles; some of the interiors are shot at other French chateaus, including Vaux-le-Vicomte, which had the same architect.

On the whole, pretty entertaining — if you don’t think too hard.

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