When Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees was a young girl, her father told her that if she trained, studied, and worked hard, one day she could be one of the legendary Musketeers. Turns out he was talking about the Mouseketeers. All those fencing lessons for nothing.
Sacre bleu! The Musketeers are back…and one of them is a girl!
The Three Musketeers have always been an amenable lot. Although French, they happily embrace other accents, often British. Although named for a type of firearm, they fight with swords. And although they save the country (France) a lot, they always seem to find time for plenty of carousing, brawling, wenching, and other pastimes that made life in the 17th century so jolly. So it's no wonder that they're even open to having a woman among their number. It's not as if there's no precedent, of course: Back in 1952, Maureen O'Hara lent her saucy tongue and skilled blade to their ranks in At Sword's Point. And now the miniseries La Femme Musketeer presents a new female recruit, whose arrival happily coincides with the era of grrl-power: Valentine, daughter of the legendary Jacques D'Artagnan.
Facts of the Case
Valentine D'Artagnan (Susie Amy, Sirens) has grown up a tomboy, more comfortable with swords and knives than with decorous feminine pursuits. Her father, once a famous Musketeer (Michael York, Austin Powers in Goldmember), has trained her well in fighting, even though they have to protect Valentine's mother, Cecile (Susan Brown), from the knowledge that her little girl dreams of being a Musketeer instead of some wealthy oaf's wife. When Valentine sets off for Paris to persuade the Musketeers' commander to allow her to join their ranks, she quickly finds that her country needs her. France is at war with Spain, and scheming Cardinal Mazarin (Gérard Depardieu, The Man in the Iron Mask) has been working against young King Louis XIV (Freddie Sayers) to turn the war to his own profit. With the aid of his sadistic right-hand man, Villeroi (Marcus Jean Pirae, Bulletproof Monk), and the cunning Lady Bolton (Nastassja Kinski, Tess), Mazarin soon makes the Musketeer an endangered species.
The future of France demands that Louis find a way to end the war, so he reluctantly plans to part with his adored mistress, Marie (Clemency Burton-Hill, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells) and marry Princess Maria Theresa of Spain. Valentine and the three sons of her father's cohorts—Etienne, Antoine, and Gaston (Casper Zafer, The Hound of the Baskervilles)—team up to find the princess and bring her safely to the king. However, Mazarin has different ideas, and when Lady Bolton turns up a compromising letter that can be used against Louis, the plot thickens. Soon Valentine finds herself arrested for murder, and her father's old companions—Athos (Christopher Cazenove), Aramis (Allan Corduner), and Porthos (John Rhys-Davies, the Lord of the Rings trilogy)—set out to rescue her and lend their swords to the fight to save France.
At nearly three hours, this good-natured adventure packs in a good bit of plot and a large assortment of characters. Its tone is humorous, broadly anachronistic, and unabashedly cheesy; bad wigs abound, and the accents are all over the map, but the enterprise is saved by some enjoyable performances and a lighthearted take on the aging Musketeers. I was expecting Michael York's role to be nothing but a cameo, so it was an unexpected pleasure to find that D'Artagnan is a prominent character. His delight in swordplay and life in general seems undimmed by the passage of time since York last essayed the role of D'Artagnan, and his presence enriches this miniseries considerably. His three cohorts are a welcome presence as well, even though none are played by the actors who costarred with York in The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974). The always wonderful John Rhys-Davies, however, is brilliantly cast as Porthos. These aging rascals may not be as fast on their feet as they used to be, and you can hear some groans when their backs and hips start to give out, but their love of mischief and adventure is just as strong as ever. As Porthos says to D'Artagnan, it's still "All for one and one for all—if your wife will let you."
The younger Musketeers definitely follow in their fathers' footsteps. Matinee-idol Gaston always finds time for the ladies, and Etienne is an incurable gambler. Valentine is both the most idealistic and the most responsible of the lot, perhaps because she hasn't yet earned her rank as Musketeer and has yet to prove herself. As our heroine, Susie Amy is pleasantly tomboyish, throwing herself into the fighting with gusto and a winning smile; she's believable as York's daughter, and their affectionate relationship is enjoyable to watch. Along with York and Amy, some other performances really help to liven up the story: In particular, Pirae brings a convincing sense of menace to Villeroi, who is easily the most effective of the villains.
Unfortunately, the strong performances are accompanied by an equal number of poor ones. Sayers is adequate as the vain young stud muffin Louis, but many of the younger actors (or, more specifically, actresses) seem to have been cast for looks rather than acting ability. More surprising are the poor performances turned in by some of the big names among the cast: Depardieu is expressionless and wooden, and Kinski is vapid and strangely subdued. Neither conveys any menace or dramatic heft. Depardieu and Kinski don't just phone in their performances; they make it a transatlantic call. It's enough to make one nostalgic for Tim Curry and Rebecca de Mornay from the 1993 version of The Three Musketeers; at least they seemed to realize that playing a villain in an adventure flick should be fun, not a chore.
Even though it features a woman as its central character, this Musketeers adventure doesn't trouble itself with many female fripperies. The romantic subplot that is hinted at never reaches resolution, as Valentine doesn't seem to have any interest in her fellow man except from an altruistic point of view. Although there are a few risqué references to men's, ahem, weapons, the miniseries is largely family-friendly. Thus, La Femme Musketeer seems to be aiming at a fairly broad audience—old and young, male and female. It is somewhat hindered in its appeal by the obvious made-for-television drawbacks, such as the abrupt scene endings with their big musical stings, and by a television-sized budget. Director Steve Boyum tries to jazz the visuals up with a Brotherhood of the Wolf flavor by showing lots of slow-mo shots of Valentine dismounting from her horse and by playing with film speed during the fight sequences, but these touches don't have the stirring effect they are evidently supposed to. The fight scenes are enjoyable and lively, with a few cute acrobatic moves, but they aren't going to drop any jaws. The production values are solid for a TV-movie, but despite Boyum's efforts, no one is going to mistake this for a big-screen movie.
La Femme Musketeer is presented in full frame, which is evidently its original aspect ratio, in a transfer that is as clean and as true in color as one would expect from a brand-new television program. The case insert seems a bit confused as to the actual audio mix, reporting it as both stereo and surround, but it seems to be a surround mix, if not 5.1. It relays dialogue and sound effects with admirable clarity and depth, but the musical score—rendered in a much lower volume—remains flat, flimsy, and uninvolving. At times I had the distinct feeling that it was actually synthesized instead of orchestral; it's that bland. There are no extras here, unless one counts a scene selection menu.
Overall, La Femme Musketeer is pleasant disposable entertainment. It doesn't insult the legacy of the Musketeers, but neither does it advance it memorably. Although the cheese factor and the sometimes clumsy performances may make you wince—and let us not forget the perfectly heinous wigs—there is an endearing sense of fun and whimsy here that redeems it. If you're in the mood for a bit of escapist fluff, you will probably be won over by the charming heroine, her gallant father, and the eternal struggle of wisecracking good against black-leather-clad evil.
Vive les Musketeers! Valentine and her cohorts are free to go, with the court's thanks for saving their hapless monarch once again. However, Gerard Depardieu and Nastassja Kinski are sentenced to community service in the form of six months of wig grooming.
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