It all started with The Tudors – the sex-up of historical themes and characters, where Henry VIII was played by handsome Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and many dreamed up of becoming his seventh wife. Historical drama got the hint; since then, we are very far from the old stiff, politically correct, clothes on at all times shtick from 90s BBC. Whether based on real people – The Borgia – or just loosely based in a time period – Rome, and most recently Vikings – History was made cool again. Versailles, a Franco-Canadian production, jumped in the bandwagon in 2015, when its first season made headlines for being the raunchiest historical series yet. Alas, reception has been mixed and the third season – aired by BBC2 and now available on a Complete Series box set courtesy of Acorn Media International – will be its last.
As construction in Versailles is completed and France has won against the Dutch, Louis XIV (George Blagden) doesn’t think of resting. To confirm his power – and divine right – at the eyes of the world, he must expand his empire, whatever the costs. Meanwhile, backstage, conflict is brewing, and a mysterious prisoner with an Iron Mask attracts the attention of Philippe (Alexander Vlahos), freshly back from the war.
This story of the beginning of the end of the French Monarchy doesn’t lack great actors (Vlahos is particularly great in this season, and who can say no to Chevalier/Evan Williams?) and a plot filled with surprises (not all of them pleasant), mystery and nakedness, but there’s a je ne sais quois missing to Versailles, that stops the series to go beyond its historical fiction fan base – though real History nerds will have trouble relating what we know about the real Sun King to its portrait in here. Maybe there’s too much gratuity – sex and twist wise – and scriptwriting wise, the plot isn’t as strong as the scenery (some scenes can get to cringeworthy level very quickly). Still, Versailles is fairly watchable, and though it seems it was originally designed for a longer run (after all, speaking about Versailles and not get to Marie Antoinette is almost a sin), season 3 manages to give a good closing to (almost all of) its characters, and keep disappointment levels between the fans almost to a minimum.
A fancy pink macaroon for historical fiction aficionados, exploitive at times, always with a mouth watering background, Versailles may not be The Crown, but it’s far from lost time.
Versailles Season 3 and Versailles: Complete Series 1-3 box set will be available on DVD 13th August 2018, courtesy of Acorn Media International.