Kirsty Capes reviews the second episode of Versailles…
If you stuck with Versailles this week for all the sex and scandal that was on display in episode one, you were probably sorely disappointed by the distinct lack of boobies in episode two of BBC’s French-produced new period drama.
Sadly, viewers this week were only subject to one sex scene between King Louis XIV (George Blagden) and his sister-in-law Henriette (Noémie Schmidt), and only one horrendous mutilation of a courtier at the hands of Philippe (Alexander Vlahos) for guffawing at the King’s brother’s choice of clothing (a lady’s dress and heels – historically accurate and true to the real Philippe’s choice of attire).
But if you were disappointed by a false promise of salaciousness after episode one seemed so very indicative, you’ll be pleased with a fairly optimistic story development as, in episode two, writers Simon Mirren and David Wolstencroft give the story plenty more room to breathe, and viewers are able to properly acquaint themselves with the court of King Louis, something which they weren’t able to do in Episode 1. Mainly due to all the sex.
Some interesting characters, ones to watch, come in the form of the court’s servants; in particular Louis’ valet and closest confidante Bontemps, played by Stuart Bowman, who persuades Louis to show compassion to his wife’s illegitimate newborn after losing his own son to pox. Also gaining sturdier footing this week is Chevalier’s cousin Beatrice (Amira Casar), one of the fictional additions to the court, and her daughter Sophie (Maddison Jaizani). Beatrice takes on the character of Madame Thénardier from Les Mis – she is penniless but gives off the exuberant character of a wealthy courtier, and thus is able to manipulate her way in to the court. Now, as we see in episode two, she senses trouble as Louis begins to clamp down on imposters, demanding that every member of the court prove their noble heritage.
Lizzie Brocheré as Claudine, the King’s physician’s daughter, is a compelling addition to the cast. As a woman who practices medicine under the tutelage of her father, Claudine is in a precarious position, posing as a midwife but in constant fear of being condemned as a witch if she reveals too much of her medical skill. Her character provides an interesting contextual insight in to the medical practices of 1600s France, and attitudes to women. Louis’ decision to make her his personal medical advisor after finding out the truth is another testament to his compassion. I sincerely hope, though, that Claudine doesn’t become another one of Louis’ conquests, and remains a character in her own rite rather than a plot device or accessory to Louis’ character.
While there were some interesting developments on the story in episode two, I am still struggling to see how Canal+ managed to spend 27 million euros on producing Versailles. Yes, there are some truly stunning vistas of the French countryside and the Versailles palace in construction, but in terms of physicality, everything so far seems to be rather small. The King hosts a ball where close-up, narrow shots suggest that there are only a dozen or so noblemen in attendance. What we are seeing is not communicating the grandiose vastness of Versailles in the way it wants its audience to perceive it. The result is, unfortunately, underwhelming.
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