Alexandre Dumas' classic tale about King Louis VIII's personal bodyguards is once again brought to life, this time on TV by the BBC, but is it any good?
The Musketeers is a difficult formula to get right.
The Three Musketeers in 1973, starring Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed and Michael York is the only one with decent reviews, while every single other version – from The Three Musketeers starring Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland in 1993, to the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle The Man in the Iron Mask in 1998 starring slightly older Musketeers Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Gerard Depardieu, to the 2011 offering with Orlando Bloom and Milla Jovovich – has tanked.
The important thing to remember, when watching Adrian Hodges' version of the Musketeers, is that the new BBC series is only "inspired" by Dumas' work.
You'll forgive me for comparing the TV show to a cartoon, but it reminds me of the much loved 1981 animated series Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, a charming cartoon that was the first exposure for many children to Dumas' work in the 80s and 90s.
The cartoon worked because it was funny and engaging; featuring adorable dog versions of the musketeers in their distinctive uniforms fighting evil and having exciting adventures, while learning important lessons about each other and life. Best of all, the Musketeers always managed to pull one over the dastardly Cardinal Richelieu and Milady.
BBC's The Musketeers similarly seems to be trying to capture the spirit of the camaraderie between the Musketeers, the trials they face, with Cardinal Richelieu and Milady sneaking about plotting intrigues in the background.
D'Artagnan, played by Luke Pasqualino, is introduced as a young man seeking revenge after his father is murdered by a masked man who identifies himself as Athos of the Musketeers.
This same man seems to enjoy running around Paris causing havoc while proclaiming his identity clearly as Athos, but no one in the show seems to question why exactly someone would bother to mask themselves, commit murder and then tell all the witnesses his identity.
The Musketeers back at their headquarters are each introduced in turn – from the dashing Aramis (Santiago Cabrera from Heroes) who is involved in an illicit affair with the lovely Adele, Cardinal Richelieu's mistress, to the headstrong Porthos (Howard Charles), who is often found cheating at cards, to Athos, who is the grim leader of the trio.
Similar to the book, they at first take offence to D'Artagnan's youthful arrogance when he comes to avenge his father (well the arrogance bit, D'Artagnan's motivations for duelling are completely different from Dumas' tale) by fighting Athos, but they quickly take him into their confidence by begging him to help them find out who is framing Athos for the murders and mayhem in Paris.
The costumes are stunning, the sets are historically accurate, but there's something missing. Like Leonardo DiCaprio's jarring American accent in his portrayal of Louis XIV– my biggest disappointment about The Musketeers is the copious amount of English accents, particularly the thick London accent of Porthos.
Could not a bit of effort been made by the actors to sound a little more French, or at least to articulate clearly in a Shakespearean stage voice? Pasqualino could not even pronounce "D'Artagnan" correctly. Methinks the BBC could do with a voice/accent coach on set.
Having an all-English cast that sounded English worked for the mythical world shown in Atlantis, but we all know how the French sound. Fake French accents can be annoying, but surely you could try a little harder?
I understand that King Louis XIII (Ryan Gage) is meant to be lazy and indulgent, totally dependent on the Musketeers and the Cardinal, but really, if you turned on the TV in the middle of the show and didn't know what you were watching, he could have been Prinny, the overindulgent King George the Fourth, for all you knew, and you could be watching a Georgian period drama.
Peter Capaldi, thankfully, is impressive as Cardinal Richelieu with just the right amount of evil, coldly watching on as he has his mistress killed when he decides that he has told her too many of his secrets, while Hugo Speer's Captain Treville comes across as a good boss trying not to let politics ruin his regiment, warning his Musketeers once again not to fight with the Cardinal's Red Guard and risk the Cardinal's wrath.
Maimie McCoy is decent as the sensuous, manipulative Milady de Winter, who sleeps with young, impetuous D'Artagnon and frames him for the murder of a messenger bearing secret letters from the King.
Most of the supporting cast of extras is also a joy to watch, but the unevenness of the casting lets the show down. It feels like some of the actors playing the four Musketeers have been hired more on their looks, rather than their ability to assimilate the legendary French bodyguards, and it shows.
Also, where are the traditional uniforms? The tabards over shirts, or even the frock coats? The King's personal body guards would have been wearing blue and red at the very least, not that conventional brown leather.
Despite its flaws, the show does have an engaging plot, with a fast pace, although sometimes it takes you a while to figure out which of the Musketeers is on screen.
Athos narrowly escapes from death and the King is browbeaten by the Cardinal for hiding the letters for him, while D'Artagnon pines for Milady – an interesting plot point that will hopefully have a pay-off later on in the series.
So can The Musketeers work as a period episodic drama? The jury's still out. A slightly lacklustre first episode, but enough there to make me want to watch the next. Who knows, maybe it will grow on me, the way Dogtanian did.