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A brief guide to duelling versions of The Three Musketeers

17 December 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Rakewell suggests that readers who were disappointed by the locations of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon head for the nearest screening of The Three Musketeers: Milady. While the latter is no more a faithful adaptation of the Dumas novel than the former is an accurate biography of the Emperor of the French, it is at least filmed in France. (Poor Napoleon and Josephine, forced to live in a mishmash of Petworth, Blenheim and Boughton, standing in for parts of the Chateau de Beauharnais, the Château de Malmaison and Fontainebleau, as the demands of filming required.)

Directed by Martin Bourboulon, The Three Musketeers: Milady is the second part of a €72m co-production between France, Germany, Spain and Belgium. The posters that began to appear around London some weeks ago clearly influenced your roving correspondent’s recent rereading of Dumas’s novel. We can’t say that this was an entirely happy experience. On this occasion, it seemed impossible to ignore the mindless violence of what are, essentially, gang members with cambric handkerchiefs who hardly ever pay their bills. Without completely spoiling the end for anyone who hasn’t already read the book, it is hard to regard extra-judicial execution as justice – even if a certified executioner is on hand to do the deed. By the end, we couldn’t help feeling that a meeting of the Estates General in the tennis court at Versailles couldn’t come too soon.

While Rakewell has not enjoyed revisiting the source materials, its many cinematic adaptations are a very different affair. (It seems highly likely that Dumas, a writer with a talent for collaboration – not always credited – and a frightening work ethic, would have had the time of his life in the film industry.) Moreover, while the roles of Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan have offered leading men in every generation a chance to try their hand at horse-riding, sword-fighting and growing a mustache, the real interest is always provided by the villains.

Milady in Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds

From Lana Turner with perfectly arched eyebrows in the 1948 version starring Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan and Vincent Price as Cardinal Richelieu, to Faye Dunaway’s ironic turn in the Richard Lester films of the 1970s, the character of Milady usually steals the show. Even the animated cat who plays her in Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, a popular children’s cartoon of the 1980s, ran away with the series. And so it is with Eva Green as Milady in the latest version. We only wish that now Milady has been elevated in Bourboulon’s film to the status of anti-hero, Éric Ruf, the actor playing Cardinal Richelieu, had more to do. But even if he did – and speaking of scene-stealing villains and cats – who could rival Vincent Price’s cardinal stroking a feline companion with deliciously evil intent long before Blofeld did?

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.