One For All: Adaptations of The Three Musketeers

JAN / FEB 2015: BY RACHEL SEXTON

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From almost the beginning of its history, cinema has put action onto the screen. Thrilling adventure has been part of the landscape of entertainment nearly from the inception of moving images. Similarly, classic works of literature provided material for the earliest film productions. Of course, these two things often coincide.

The term action implies a sense of motion, such as in various forms of hand to hand combat, which can easily suit the visual nature of the cinema more naturally than the printed page. When we think of the term “swashbuckler” as moviegoers, in fact, a certain type of hand to hand combat comes to mind—fencing. Swords must be crossed and clanged for a movie or television show to be called a swashbuckler. As a classic novel that features a lot of action in the form of fencing, The Three Musketeers definitely qualifies for the term, and it may very well be one of the earliest swashbucklers. The Three Musketeers is a story adapted for the screen many times, but themes of teamwork and friendship remain the one common thread of every version of the tale.

French writer Alexandre Dumas wrote it in serial form for the newspaper Le Siecle in 1844. Set in the 17th Century, the novel tells the story of D’Artagnan, a young but poor nobleman who leaves Gascony to travel to Paris to become a Musketeer—one of the King’s guards. He meets three men who are already Musketeers—Athos, Porthos, and Aramis—and ends up facing a duel with each of them. The guards of Cardinal Richelieu arrive to arrest them for illegal dueling, however, and the four win the fight. D’Artagnan thus gains three friends and entrance into a regiment that will eventually lead to his becoming a Musketeer. Soon, the fact that Richelieu is a power hungry war-monger is revealed, and the Musketeers and D’Artagnan must stop the Cardinal and his lead henchman, Rochfort, and his agent, Milady de Winter, who turns out to be Athos’ ex-wife. Their success results in D’Artagnan becoming a full-fledged Musketeer.

These characters would appear again in Dumas’ Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later. (The concluding section of this last novel is more commonly known as The Man in the Iron Mask.) The entertain-ment value of The Three Musketeers has a timeless appeal that has resulted in various film and television versions but there is one adaptation from each medium that proves the endurance of this story.

Walt Disney Studios released a film version in 1993, directed by Stephen Herek and starring Chris O’Donnell as D’Artagnan, Kiefer Sutherland as Athos, Charlie Sheen as Aramis, and Oliver Platt as Porthos. Tim Curry is Cardinal Richelieu and Rebecca de Mornay is Milady. This adaptation is faithful in terms of setting, location, and production values, but the dialogue has a modern and humorous feel, and none of the actors even attempts an accent. As a viewer, you barely notice this as you’re caught up in the plot’s intrigues and the action. The heroes have an engaging camaraderie and they clearly enjoy playing the comedy of the script as actors. All adaptations portray the Musketeers as more heroic than in the original novel but this version alters the tale in other ways as well. The royal couple the Musketeers protect, King Louis XVIII and Queen Anne (Hugh O’Conor and Gabrielle Anwar), are in love but haven’t admitted it yet; in the novel their interaction is no love match. The love interest for D’Artagnan (Julie Delpy) is not married in this film though the character is in the novel. Also, the Duke of Buckingham is only mentioned here while playing an important part in the novel. And did I mention the humor? Funny lines abound in this adaptation; they are memorable, enjoyable, and sometimes quite clever.

Audiences have been treated to the most recent adaptation of The Three Musketeers on television. Airing on BBC One in England beginning in January of 2014, and later on BBC America in the United States, The Musketeers expands the story around the four characters we’re all familiar with. The British cast includes Luke Pasqualino as D’Artagnan, Tom Burke as Athos, Santiago Cabrera as Aramis, and Howard Charles as Porthos. Peter Capaldi also stars as Richelieu. While this adaptation is authentic to the time period, it is much more of a procedural, with the Musketeers acting almost as law enforcement for the crown of France while overarching plots faithful to the novel take place as well. Other ways this version is similar to the novel is that Constance is married, and the commander of the Musketeers from the novel, de Treville, is a regular character. Over the course of different cases and the progression of the storylines familiar from the novel, the action and group dynamic the viewer expects from the Musketeers is well established. A second season has just begun in the UK and will soon follow in America.

Of course, these aren’t the only two adaptations of The Three Musketeers to be found in film or television. IMDB lists versions as early as the silent era, the ‘30s featured film versions, and there was one in the ‘70s starring Michael York. In 2011, a version starring Logan Lerman, Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans, and Ray Stevenson was released. It had a definite steampunk style to its visuals and was presented in 3D.

The rest of the Musketeer story has a presence on cinema screens as well. The Man in the Iron Mask has had several film versions, most recently in 1998 starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Louis XIV and Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons, and Gerard Depardieu as D’Artagnan and the other Musketeers. With staying power like this, it is inevitable that the friendship and teamwork wrapped up in action and adventure that can be found in The Three Musketeers will find its way on screen again someday in the future.

That leaves just one question: shouldn’t Musketeers be associated less with swords and more with the weapon that gives them their name?

But then, it wouldn’t be a swashbuckler!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton is from Ohio and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. But what you really need to know is that she has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life and her favorite fandoms are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Once Upon a Time. Plus, she is most described as quiet and her biggest vice is cupcakes. Her main hobby is editing fan videos.

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