It has been awhile since I watched a historical drama TV series. Over a year ago, I watched Starz’s Outlander and Penny Dreadful. Sometimes, I have moods for a particular TV show genre. A few weeks ago, I finished intensely binging Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I honestly had no idea what TV show to binge after it. I would still have to wait until November 4th for Season 4 of Outlander. Somehow, I decided to check out Versailles series on random whim.
Ironically, this was not my first time hearing about Versailles series. I actually had gotten the series pilot for free on iTunes. One year ago, I decided to finally get around to watching Versailles pilot episode. But I just couldn’t get into this show. Not sure why considering I love historical drama genre. So I put it aside and found other TV shows. Some things take time to be truly appreciated. Few week ago, I gave the pilot episode another chance. Within the first two episodes, I was hooked on this historical drama.
The titular show name is rather self-explanatory. Versailles is the origin story of King Louis XIV reign. Season 1 picks up in 1667 after French nobility start rebelling against the French monarch. The 28-year-old king seeks refuge at his father’s former hunting lodge in a small village called Versailles. King Louis XIV dreams of transforming his father’s humble hunting lodge into the Palace of Versailles. A new base of political power for the French monarchy away from Paris. But he must find a way to get the noble aristocracy under his control. That is much easier said than done. King Louis XIV faces resistance from even his own council of ministers. They cannot see the bigger picture. King Louis XIV wants to leave a legacy for future generations. He aspires to transform France into a powerful, centralized modern state.
King Louis XIV is the longest reigning monarch in history to date. He ruled France from May 1643 to September 1715. His 72-year reign would be classified as an absolute monarchy. But the king was patron of the arts, music, dance, theater, and literature as well. Also, he took French haute couture fashion to new heights. King Louis XIV’s vanity always sought to maintain his image of the Sun King through the arts and fashion. He is even referred to as the king of propaganda.
Versailles series focuses mainly on King Louis XIV aka the Sun King. But there are plenty of important characters in the main cast ensemble. Very few are part of the king’s inner circle of trust excluding his council of ministers.
One of the main relationships explored in the show is between King Louis XIV and his younger brother, Philippe. Louis is determined to make his ambitious dreams of Versailles palace a reality. Also, the king seeks to leave behind a glorious legacy. His younger brother, Philippe, is the polar opposite. He doesn’t have much ambitions in life beside enjoying life through lavish parties. Duke of Orleans was open about his preference for male company as well. Yet, Philippe offers an insightful voice of reason in many situations over the three seasons. During his whole life, Philippe got used to living in his brother’s shadow. During their childhood, their own mother purposely dressed up her younger son as a girl to refocus attention towards Louis. (Side note: Philippe still dressed up in woman’s clothing even into adulthood.) Also, Philippe was supposed to act appropriately so it wouldn’t negatively reflect on his older brother’s reputation. Eventually, he carved his own path through his distinguished military career. Despite their tumultuous relationship, King Louis XIV and Duke of Orleans are there for each other at the end of the day.
Alexandre Bontemps was the first valet to King Louis XIV. In fact, his own father, Jean Baptiste Bontemps, was the primary surgeon to King Louis XII before being appointed the role of first valet. Alexandre was a very powerful figure at Versailles court. Bontemps was a loyal servant who effectively performed his royal duties. Discretion was of the utmost importance on certain royal tasks. He was responsible for ensuring the king’s security and taking care of his various households. This esteemed position was the perfect way to seek favors from the king. Yet, Bontemps never asked King Louis XIV for any favors. The king held a very high opinion of his first valet as a result. King Louis XIV trusted Bontemps and never doubted his steadfast loyalty. Versailles series depicts the close relationship between these two characters. The king often seeks personal advice from his first valet on political and personal matters. King Louis XIV even lets his guards down to show emotional vulnerability behind closed doors with Bontemps. In a way, the king looks up to Bontemps as a quasi-father figure. It is quite obvious real friendship existed between King Louis XIV and his first valet, Alexandre Bontemps.
King Louis XIV had a voracious sexual appetite. He was not faithful to first wife. Ironically, Queen consort Maria Theresa of Spain was well-known for her virtue and piety. She was forced to tolerate the king’s plethora of lovers. Yet, the king had a few prominent lovers. Henrietta of England, Madame de la Valliere. Madame de Montespan, and Madame de Maintenon are all featured in Versailles series. In fact, he secretly married his royal mistress, Marquis de Maintenon, after the death of Queen consort Maria Theresa in 1683. Surprisingly, King Louis XIV remained faithful after marrying her. But he would never remarry again for the sake of a diplomatic political alliance.
Versailles series frequently depicts the noble women at court seeking power and political influence by getting close to King Louis XIV. They eagerly wanted to gain access his elite inner circle. Woman at court weaponized their female sexuality to climb the ladder at French court. Madame de Montespan and Madame de Maintenon each wanted political power confidently knowing the king cherished their private council. King Louis XIV’s mistresses weren’t always just to satisfy his sexual appetite. He also genuinely enjoyed the company of his royal mistresses.
Over the span of three seasons, there are plenty of passionate romantic affairs in Versailles series. Mostly it involved King Louis XIV and his royal mistresses. But there was one unconventional romantic affair. Philippe I, Duke of Orleans, and his longtime lover Chevalier of Lorraine. Philippe and Chevalier of Lorraine live hedonistic lifestyles at Versailles court. So obviously this is one commonality between them. They just wanted to enjoy life. Yet, their connection goes beyond a purely physical relationship. The two men connect on a deeper emotional level as well. You see this aspect of their relationship more fleshed out the Season 2 and 3. They genuinely love each other. No matter if their lives take them in opposite directions. Philippe and Chevalier of Lorraine always find a way back into each other’s lives. Over the three seasons, each character was well-developed through the story arcs. Sometimes, they struggled being forced to spent so much time apart. Yet, Philippe and Chevalier of Lorraine drastically matured by the third and final season. Honestly, I was quite emotionally invested in the MonChevy ship. Also, I loved the dynamic trio. Philippe, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth of Palatinate, and Chevalier of Lorraine. I eagerly looked forward to their interactional exchanges in Season 3. Ironically, this was one of the healthiest romantic relationships in Versailles series. That’s saying quite a lot.
Religion is a major theme interwoven into the plot arcs over the three seasons. French monarchy is always associated with the Roman Catholic faith. King Louis XIV was a devout Catholic. Yet, he called himself head of the Catholic Church in France. In a way, the Catholic Church was King Louis XIV’s subordinate and tool to do his own personal bidding. What was good for him was ultimately good for France. He often clashed against the papal powers in the Vatican. King Louis XIV used the Roman Catholic faith to control the nobles at court and French citizens. He wanted to enforce religious uniformity. The king was particularly less tolerant to the French Protestants (also known as Huguenots). They were often viewed as heretics to the one true Catholic faith. In fact, King Louis XIV went so far to revoke The Edict of Nantes in October 1685 with Edict of Fontainebleau. It essentially made it illegal to practice the Protestant faith in France. (Side note: The Edict of Nantes was promulgated by his grandfather, King Henry IV, to promote civil unity and rights for Huguenots.) Hundreds of thousands of Huguenots left France as a result of it. This had a huge impact on the French economy. If there was going to be a Season 4, I’d be intrigued to see Versailles series explore the repercussions of Edict of Fontainebleau at Versailles court and within Paris.
This English-speaking drama features an incredibly talented main and supporting cast ensemble of majorly European actors. Every actor was perfectly cast for their respective roles! George Blagden plays the lead role of King Louis XIV. Alexander Vlahos plays the role of Philippe I, Duke of Orleans. Evan Williams plays the role of Chevalier of Lorraine, Philippe’s lover. Noémie Schmidt plays the role of Henrietta of England, Philippe’s first wife. Jessica Clark plays the role of Princess Elizabeth Charlotte of Palatinate, Philippe’s second wife. Anna Brewster plays the role of Marquis de Montespan. Catherine Walker plays the role of Madame de Maintenon. Elisa Lasowski plays the role of Queen Maria Theresa, the king’s wife. Tygh Runyan plays the role of Monsieur Fabien Marchal, the king’s head of security. Stuart Bowman plays the role of Alexandre Bontemps, the king’s first valet. This is just the main cast ensemble. Overall, the entire cast ensemble had incredible chemistry!
All the historical dramas I’ve seen set in France feature vibrant colored elaborate outfits. The costume and make-up department have a daunting task of making the costumes accurate to the respective time period. The costumes perfectly matched the personalities of main and supporting Versailles characters. Even plain colored outfits have exquisite embroidered details on the material. Most of all, King Louis XIV’s embellished outfits dazzlingly embodied the glorious Sun King image. He always aims to stand out in a crowd. You didn’t rarely see him wear all dark colors. His outfits usually feature a variety of colors. Gold, red, navy blue, silver, and burgundy. But even the aristocratic nobles at court also wore vibrant colored outfits with beautiful embroidery. It’s truly a feast for the eyes when watching Versailles series.
Hair is equally as important as costumes in historical dramas. It wasn’t uncommon for men to have longer hairstyles. The male actors usually wore long wigs for their characters. (Side note: Don’t even get me started on the magnificently luscious wigs of King Louis XIV, Duke of Orleans, and Chevalier of Lorraine. Words cannot adequately explain how beautiful they are. It was so distracting sometimes too.) Women wore their very long hair in intricate hairstyles. Plethora of etiquette laid out guidelines of how the king and his noble subjects at court were required to present themselves out in public. The combination of the exquisite costumes and wigs along with breathtaking interior and exterior cinematography transports you to 17th century France.
This Franco-Canadian production was shot on location in France including at Palace of Versailles. In fact, Versailles TV series is the most expensive production in French history. 30 million euros production to be exact! It certainly isn’t cheap to shoot on location throughout France. Also, you’ve got to factor in costs for the costumes and wigs for the main and supporting cast along with the extras. With a plethora of other production elements, I can see how it all adds up to 30 million euros.
Many years ago, I visited Paris with my family. We couldn’t leave France without seeing the Palace of Versailles. This landmark is absolutely sumptuous. Not enough words to describe how all the interior and exterior opulent details was a feast for your eyes! King Louis XIV knew exactly what he was doing by creating such an impressive yet imposing architectural landmark. He created an enticing environment for the nobles to call their permanent residence…in order to trap them in a luxurious prison. King Louis XIV ensured the rebellious aristocratic nobles at court were under his tight control.
Versailles brilliantly fleshes out King Louis XIV controversial reign over the span of three seasons. Season 1 explores the early years of his reign. It is set between 1667-1670. His ambitious dream of turning his father’s former hunting lodge into a stunning palace consumes his thoughts. But he must first convince French noble to make Versailles their permanent residence. The hedonistic lifestyle at court drew nobles away from their residences. They wanted to be part of this elite group.
Season 2 explores how King Louis XIV handles the dark side of power and slowly returning to the light again. It is set between 1670-1683. The king achieved his goal of building a magnificent palace to trap the French nobles and assert absolute control over them. Behind the rules of etiquette, the nobles will do anything to gain money and power to climb the ladder. Morality is rapidly deteriorating at court. The Affair of Poisons wrecks chaos at court. Ironically, Versailles palace turns out to be his worst enemy. The king experiences a downward spiral trying to find himself again. Also, he declares war on Holland. William of Orange proves to be his perfect opponent. The king has finally met his match.
Season 3 explores King Louis XIV at the height of his reign. He wants to expand his empire and impose his tyrannical power throughout Europe. But it could come at a high cost. The man in the iron mask mystery is interwoven into the storyline. We finally see how King Louis XIV’s reign affects the commoners in Paris. Drastically stark contrast from the life of debauchery at French court. These contrasting perspectives offer fascinating story arcs. Most of all, King Louis XIV has gained absolute power. But he must now maintain that power over his empire. Over three seasons, the king experiences volatile highs and lows in terms of personal life and political ambitions.
I’ve seen my fair share of historical period drama TV shows over the years. Generally, I avoid ones in which the storytelling focus too on much political drama. TV shows about a royal monarch in history is more my cup of tea. There’s a good balance between historical figure’s tumultuous personal life and the political journey throughout their reign. Showtime’s The Tudors tells the story of infamous King Henry VIII’s reign. CW’s Reign tells the story of Queen Mary of Scotland’s reign. PBS’s Victoria tells the story of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Versailles is an entity of its own in terms of being a historical period drama. There’s much historical accuracy to the story arcs as well as the development of main and supporting characters. Very little creative liberties in terms of the plot arcs and characters. In fact, there was a historian on Versailles set to verify the historical accuracy of the characters and their plot arcs.
This was not my first MA rating historical drama series about a royal monarch. The rating usually pertains to gory violence and explicit sexual content elements. Strong profanity is not too common in historical drama TV shows. Versailles is actually more raunchy and violent than Showtime’s The Tudors. I was impressed how there was more equality in terms of female and male nudity. This is a rarity on MA rating TV shows. King Louis XIV was an absolute monarch who was a womanizer and warmonger. These flavors were essentially part of his narcissistic personality. In my opinion, the explicit sexual content and gory violence didn’t detract from the incredibly captivating storytelling in Versailles TV series. It’s a pity that critics are focusing on these two elements rather than the bigger picture. This is why I decided whether or not I’ll like a TV series. Not based on the reviews of critics.
Versailles is essentially a riveting rock ‘n roll docudrama about King Louis XIV’s controversial reign and the nobles at French court. The show also incorporates speculative rumors surrounding his reign. There’s plenty of historical accuracy in the spectacularly captivating storytelling and fascinating character development. So many compelling characters in the main and supporting ensemble. The cast brilliantly brought their characters to life. I couldn’t get enough of the magnificent costume and wigs. As a historical buff, I don’t know why it took me so long to start this phenomenal historical period drama. Better late than never. I regret absolutely nothing binge watching all 30 episodes of Versailles series within 7 days! Apparently, the cast and crew knew Versailles series would only be for three seasons. But I would have loved more seasons. At least, Versailles series got to tie up loose ends of various characters’ storylines. The series finale gave satisfactory closure for the fans.
I’ll leave you with the awesome opening credit of Versailles. I love how MA rated TV shows actually make an effort to make opening credits. The opening credits are always appropriately fitting for the overall theme of the TV series.