WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” and Alexandre Dumas “The Three Musketeers,” maybe the two works of great literature adapted to the screen, more often than any other novel. BBC America has brought back the Dumas classic to the small screen, as the pilot of “The Musketeers” premiered Sunday night. The production is beautifully filmed and authentically portrays France in the year 1630, complete with all the opulence for the Royal Class and covered in grit and grime for the peasants under the rule of King Louis XIII (Ryan Gage.)
The story opens on a rainy late afternoon as an older man and his younger companion are riding horseback en route to Paris. We quickly realize that the man Alexander, is the father of the younger man D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), as the son asks his father whether they should end their trip for the evening and find lodging. Alexander replies that he could ride straight through to Paris, but to make D’Artagnan happy he agrees to seek sleeping quarters. The pair soon come upon an inn, Alexander enters the house to register, while his son goes into the barn to set up their horses for the night.
Alexander walks in to see an elderly man sleeping in a chair and nobody else around, he bangs on a horseshoe suspended from the ceiling and a man soon responds. A large man who appears about 40-years old comes down the stairs and welcomes his guest. As the three men are getting acquainted inside the house, a band of men ride in wearing the uniforms of the King’s Musketeers, but wearing bandanas to cover the lower part of their faces. As they dismount, one men shouts to the others to check the barn.
The rest of the men walk inside the inn and the spokesman and apparent leader, introduces his group as the King’s Musketeers and identifies himself as Athos. He then asks the three men to empty their pockets of money and jewelry. Alexander responds to his captor that he was always under the impression the Musketeers were honorable men, but their actions prove otherwise. The leader replies that they have yet to taste his cruelty and pulls out a pistol to shoot Alexander, but the old man pulls out his sidearm and the bandit shoots him instead. He then shoots Alexander who is fatally wounded.
D’Artagnan encounters two of the men in the barn and proceeds to fight them both with his sword, when he hears the gunfire he shoots one of the men, while his accomplice flees on horseback with the rest of his squad. Alexander stumbles out from the house and his son tells him that the man he was chasing had gotten away. His father falls to the ground and D’Artagnan realizes his father is grievously wounded, Alexander’s dying word is the name of his assailant, Athos.
We head to Paris and find the real Athos (Tom Burke) is waking up and nursing a massive hangover. He revives himself by drinking a slug from the bottle from the night before and then fills a wooden bucket filled with cold water and submerges his head in it. He then does some warm-up exercising, gets dressed and heads to the local pub, where he encounters his fellow Musketeer Porthos (Howard Charles.) Porthos’ engaged in a game of cards playing against a member of the Cardinal’s red guard. The other soldier is certain that he holds the winning hand and starts to grab for the pot, when Porthos stops him and then produces the true winning hand.
The member of the red guard accuses his opponent of cheating and holding cards up his sleeve. Porthos laughs at the accusations, which gets the other soldier more angry, he produces his sword but Athos informs him, that if he kills Porthos who does not have a weapon, it would be murder. Porthos then picks up fork that looks like a tiny trident and starts dueling his opponent using the eating utensil. After watching for a while Athos, bores of the fight and knocks out the other soldier with a blow to the back of the head. Walking out of the pub he asks Porthos where the third member of their team is, then becomes agitated when he realizes the answer.
The third Musketeer Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), is enjoying the company of the woman he professes to love, but its a complicated relationship, as she is also the mistress of Cardinal Richelieu (Peter Capaldi,) who is on his way to her home and will arrive momentarily. The Musketeer, tells her that the Cardinal does not love her like he does, but she tells her lover that Richelieu pays the rent. The commotion in the street below informs the couple that the Cardinal has arrived and Aramis must leave immediately. She suggests he jump out her window, but the length of what would be his fall dissuades him from doing that. He throws his sword and coat out of the window then realizes his pistol is on her floor. She tries to toss it to him, but accidentally kicks it under her bed just as the Cardinal enters her chambers. Aramis is hanging onto the ledge beneath the window by his fingertips, when Athos and Porthos arrive on the scene.
The Musketeers head to their headquarters and get summoned by their commanding officer Captain Treville (Hugo Speer), who informs them that a fellow Musketeer who was on an important assignment has vanished. Treville informs them that finding the missing soldier is their top priority.
D’Artagnan has arrived in Paris and finds accommodations for lodging in an establishment run by an elderly woman. She informs her guest that the fee he is paying her is only for a room and a bed, anything else he wants whether it be a meal or soap will cost extra. Later that evening, he is sitting drinking in the building’s main room when a heavyset man and a beautiful woman arrive and check in. The woman informs the old lady that she wants fresh water for her bath and D’Artagnan jokingly tells the woman that it will cost extra. The rotund man asks D’Artagnan whether he was addressing him, to which the young man responds only if he answers to Madam. The man turns to the woman that he refers to as Milady (Maimie McCoy) and excuses himself, informing her he will teach the brash young man some manners and pulls out his sword. D’Artagnan produces a pistol and tells the other man to put his sword down and walk away, his female companion tells the man named Mendoza to ignore the “drunken lout.”
Later that evening D’Artagnan and the woman pass each other closely on the staircase, he soon realizes his sidearm is gone and that the woman has it. She tells the young man that he really does need to learn better manners than kisses him full on the mouth. When he asks about Mendoza, she tells him not to worry. After they make love he becomes aware that she is still wearing a velvet collar around her neck, although she is otherwise totally nude. He pulls it aside to see that it hides a scar on her neck, she tells him that the scar came at the hands of a former lover. D’Artagnan offers to kill the man for her and she replies that she might take him up on his offer one day.
He wakes the next morning to find that he is alone in the bed and the pillow his companion had been lying on, was now stabbed with a blood-covered letter opener. Seconds later he hears screams from the hallway and he runs out there with the letter opener still in his hand. He sees Mendoza’s dead body and the woman who runs the house accuses him of killing Mendoza. He jumps out of an upper story window to escape, but the woman sends the rest of the lodgers after him. As he is running he sees an attractive young woman selling from a cart, he embraces her and kisses her as the people looking for him run right past them. The young man is rather proud of his quick thinking until the young woman kicks him in the family jewels.
She immediately feels remorse for her actions and starts having sympathy for the young man. He asks her if she knows where she can find Athos and she responds that he is her friend and why is he searching for the Musketeer. She then introduces herself as Madam Constance Bonacieux (Tamla Kari), and tells D’Artagnan that if he intends on a fight he is in no shape to have one. He then passes out at her feet seconds later.
When he regains consciousness, he finds himself in a house with Constance tending to his wounds. He asks where he is and she informs him that he is in her husband’s house. He tells her he needs to leave and once more asks her where he can find Athos. He tells her that Athos killed his father in cold blood and he must seek revenge.
The next scene opens at the Musketeers headquarters and all three of the soldiers are standing in the courtyard when D’Artagnan arrives. He then asks the trio who is Athos, and the soldier immediately identifies himself. D’Artagnan tells him to prepare to die and lunges at Athos with his sword. The confused Musketeer asks the young man why he wants to kill him and he responds because Athos killed his father. Athos tells D’Artagnan that he is mistaken and he does not want to take the young mans life over a mistake. He soon disarms his opponent and tells him the fight is over. The young man refuses to quit however and throws a knife in his opponent’s direction hitting a wall close to him. At that point Aramis tells the young man that his friend told him the fight is over and if he wants to keep dueling he will now face two adversaries. Seeing that D’Artagnan still won’t give up, Porthos joins in and the trio soon have their opponent pinned to a wall.
Constance enters the fort right at that moment and chastises the Musketeers that they have the young man outnumbered three to one. Athos tells her they weren’t going to harm him and then pull their swords from his neck. D’Artagnan tells Constance that he is now totally confused, he was certain the Musketeer had murdered his father, but now he doesn’t know what to believe.
We get our first glimpse of the Royal Court as King Louis XIII was shooting at birds when released from their cage, an activity that his wife Queen Anne (Alexandra Dowling,) is noticeably bored with. Captain Treville and Cardinal Richelieu soon arrive, each with their own agenda for the King. The Cardinal starts denigrating the Musketeers, much to Treville’s consternation. Richelieu then tells all gathered that he has heard tales of a band of Musketeers who are nothing but murderers and thieves in uniforms. The Captain dismisses the stories as foolish rumors.
We head to a stretch of open road where a young man is driving a carriage containing his Master and Mistress, when he comes upon what looks like a dead soldier in the middle of the path. After kicking the body, the driver starts to turn him over when he realizes the soldier is not only alive but he is holding a pistol pointed at the driver’s head. The phony Musketeer tells the driver to let his friends know that the Musketeer named Athos has spared his life. As the driver runs away, the assailant shoots the man and the woman inside the carriage.
Richelieu’s mistress is looking at the pistol left by Aramis that she has hidden in her top dresser drawer when the Cardinal arrives. She hides the weapon then asks her lover if he is feeling well, or is suffering from a headache. The Cardinal then verbally tears apart everyone he works with, but tells his mistress that she is the only person he can trust. A momentary look of concern crosses the woman’s face but disappears quickly.
Captain Treville encounters the Three Musketeers, as he arrives with other members of his regiment along with two members of the red guard. Treville then sadly informs Athos that the two members of the red guard have arrived to arrest him, as witnesses have stepped forward with stories of a man identifying himself as Athos who has robbed and killed people over the last few weeks. The Captain then tells his soldier that he had assured the red guard that he would not give them any trouble. After the soldiers take Athos away, Treville tells Porthos and Aramis that if they hope to clear their friend’s name they have to track down the missing Musketeer. The pair then ask D’Artagnan if he could identify any of the phony Musketeers and he replies that he shot one of them back at the inn. The three men head back to the place that Alexander died.
The man’s body was still at the inn when the trio arrived and immediately Porthos and Aramis realize that the corpse was not a Musketeer despite the uniform he was wearing. D’Artagnan then notices the uniform jacket had two bullet holes in it, while he shot the man just once. As they examine the body they quickly discover the bullet hole that killed him, but there is not a wound that matches the other hole. They soon deduce that it was a stolen uniform and they track down a squad of dead Musketeers including the soldier they were looking for. As the men examine the scene Porthos sees a Spanish coin and laughs, as it is the second one that he has seen that week. When the other two men asks where he saw the first one, he tells them that he won it from the red guard soldier during their card game. The three men quickly deduce that the red guard soldier who accused Porthos of cheating played a role in the deaths of the Musketeers.
The next scene was rather surprising as we find out that the French King’s Brother-In-Law, is the King of Spain (Queen Anne’s brother.) The Monarch has written a series of letters meant for the Spanish King and given to one of Treville’s men to deliver, however the letters and the messenger have vanished. In the messages Louis XIII makes overtures to his Spanish counterpart for a treaty between the two countries. If the letters became public, Louis would be perceived as the weak ineffectual ruler he actually is.
Back in Paris, the three men hunt down the member of the red guard and inform they will get a confession out of him either the easy way or via torture. After first denying involvement, he then admits that he was part of the group that committed the heinous acts. He refuses to name who was in charge at first, but when he is staring down a bullet, he names a red guard Captain named Corte as the leader and the one who is impersonating Athos.
The King and the Cardinal are in the midst of a discussion, when Richelieu criticizes the passive way that France is dealing with Spain, whom the Cardinal proclaims is the nation’s enemy. Louis XIII reminds Richelieu that Queen Anne is from Spain and the Spanish King is his brother-in-law. The monarch soon becomes a simpering wimp, as he confesses to the Cardinal about the letters he sent to the King of Spain and tells Richelieu that the missives have been lost. Richelieu does not reveal what he knows and puts on an act for the King, stating that he will have to retire from public life. The King is almost crying as he begs the Cardinal not to stop being his adviser. He apologizes for not informing Richelieu about the plan and promises he will always heed his advice and grant the Cardinal’s wishes, what ever they are. Richelieu tells the King that he will remain his loyal servant.
The three men track down Corte and his squad and Aramis tells his two companions to wait for his signal as surprise will be their greatest ally. D’Artagnan completely ignores the Musketeer’s request as he immediately charges the squad screaming out Corte’s name. The three men vanquish their enemies quickly, leaving only Corte alive. Although D’Artagnan truly wants to kill him, the two soldiers tell him they need Corte alive, to prove Athos’ innocence and save him from a firing squad. Seconds later Corte tries to kill D’Artagnan only to die by the young man’s blade which he raised in self-defense. Porthos states that with them recovering the stolen uniforms and the member of the red guard’s confession, they should still be able to prove that Athos was not the killer.
We meet up with the Cardinal and his mistress who are in a carriage on a trip that Richelieu tells his companion is a surprise. Her anticipation soon ends as the carriage stops in the middle of nowhere. The Cardinal has found out about her clandestine relationship with Aramis and he is about to have one of his soldiers murder her for being a traitor. She goes to her death chanting that she loves Aramis, until a bullet silences her forever.
Athos is in front of a firing squad and finally screams out to the soldiers to shoot him already. However Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan arrive with a letter from the King revoking his sentence. The four men then head to the pub, thinking about the one woman he truly loved that he believes he killed. After showing him approach her in his memory throughout the episode, the woman finally turns around and we realize she is Milady.
The final scene of the pilot is in the cell of the red guard soldier who confessed about the plan and implicated Corte. Richelieu enters the cell and makes social niceties with the prisoner. The soldier responds that the only reason he would be happy to see the Cardinal, would be if he came with news of his release from the prison. Richelieu tells the prisoner that is the reason for his visit, as he has arranged for the soldier’s release. He then produces a bottle and two cups and pours them each a drink. The soldier quickly drains his cup, but then notices Richelieu has not taken a sip. Seconds later he realizes why, as the Cardinal has killed him with poison.
The story will pick up again next Sunday night on BBCA.