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Three cheers for the new Three Musketeers

by Bernard O'Shea

Does the world need two new films of The Three Musketeers in 2024? It’s something to ponder when considering what to see at Australia’s 35th Alliançe Française French Film Festival (AFFFF), where Les Trois Mousquetaires  D’Artagnan and Les Trois Mousquetaires – Milady are among the 41 movies on offer.

Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel Les Trois Mousquetaires is a gift that has kept on giving for movie directors and producers. If you look on Wikipedia’s ‘The Three Musketeers in film page’ on a large computer screen, you have to press the ‘Page Down’ button three times to get to the end of the listings.

Mice, marionettes, Barbie and a president

There were eight silent adventure versions of it between 1903 and 1921; French director Henri Diamant-Berger made the first sound version in 1933; that same year, an unusual US serial adaptation also appeared, starring John Wayne, but top billing went to Raymond HattonFrancis X. Bushman Jr. and Jack Mulhall playing the famous trio, albeit as members of the French Foreign Legion in North Africa.

Since then there have been Argentinian, Mexican (Los tres mosqueteros – it’s not about mosquitoes!), Brazilian and Russian versions, many animated varieties including Barbie and the Three (female) Musketeers, heroic rodents The Three Mouseketeers, and an Italian version that apparently used 3000 marionettes. Even Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has got in on the act, playing D’Artagnan in Russian-Ukrainian musical film featuring three female musketeers.

Star power down the ages

Perhaps the most memorable versions among the elder generation today are:

  • The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), starring Michael York, Charlton Heston, Raquel Welch, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, Faye Dunaway, Richard Chamberlain and Spike Milligan.
  • Disney’s 1993 spectacle starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt, Rebecca De Mornay and the wonderful Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu.

Other famous actors who have starred in Musketeer movies include Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, Angela Lansbury, Catherine Deneuve, Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen, Orlando Bloom, Rodrigo Santoro and Emmanuelle Béart.

Still, it’s been years since we’ve had a big blockbuster version of The Three Musketeers. Film-making has come a long way in the time, particularly with more sophisticated computer graphics and drones for aerial photography. So how does this new French effort – the country’s first in more than 60 years –  stack up? En un mot, magnifique! In a word, awesome!

Enthralling action and suspense

Filming Les Trois Mousquetaires  D’Artagnan and Les Trois Mousquetaires – Milady was an epic undertaking. Director Martin Bourboulon and his cast filmed them back to back over the 10 months to June 2022, working with a budget of more than €70 million. The former was released in France in April 2023 –  France’s biggest box-office successes of the year – and the latter in December 2023. The films garnered six nominations at the 2024 César Awards, winning for Best Production Design. Hardly surprising, then, that they were chosen to open the 2024 Australian French Film Festival, where it’s best to see them one after the other. 

Even if you know the gist of the story – who’s fighting who, who’s plotting to betray who, who’s secretly in love with who, and who eventually triumphs – the films are gripping. So much happens I would even consider seeing them again to take it all in fully. A surprise modern twist is that one of the musketeers, Porthos (played by Pio Marmaï), is openly bisexual. Vincent Cassel, now 57, still has a commanding presence on screen as the moody Athos, while Romain Duris is all swagger and energy as Aramis. François Civil of Call My Agent! fame handles the coveted role of D’Artagnan with optimistic zest. Louis Garrel is wonderful as the banal and rather stupid King Louis XIII. A puzzling quibble, though, is why Bourboulon opted to film much of it in a gloomy brown.

Femmes fatales

The real drivers of the action – be it clashing swords, frenzied gallops on horseback in the countryside and fiery bombardments of castles – are the women. And why not? After all, with their unblemished complexions, buxom bosoms, perfect teeth and magnificent garments, the leading female characters sparkle amid all the muddy, grimy great unwashed.

D’Artagnan is smitten from the moment he first encounters the queen’s seamstress Constance Bonacieux (Lyna Khoudri),  Eva Green is a force to be reckoned with as the conniving Milady de Winter, and Vicky Krieps is superb as the fragile, bored Anne of Austria, King Louis’ Queen, who’s swept up in a dangerous long-distance love affair with The Duke of Buckingham.

Who’s calling the shots, the King (Louis Garrel) or his Queen (Vicky Krieps)?

After all the macho action and bravado of part one, Les Trois Mousquetaires – Milady gives us an interesting alternative viewpoint, bringing the dramas of the women to the fore in an age when their role was to remain in the background. D’Artagnan manages to save the day for the Queen, of course, but in one of the two films’ best scenes, the most likeable, virtuous woman, Constance, gets caught up in a tragic case of mistaken identity.

The second film ends on a enigmatic, tantalising note, though. Is one of the characters that is missing and presumed dead about to rise again? Have Bourboulon and his cast got a third film in mind? Let’s hope so. M5R

Photos courtesy of the Alliance Française French Film Festival.

Did you know?

A Martin Bourboulon’s film with Romain Duris in a leading role also opened the 2021 Alliance Française French Film Festival: the monumental Eiffel – the story of the man and his famous tower.

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