Simon Mirren

Independent - 01/03/2016 (English)

‘Versailles’ will put ‘Downton’ to shame: A lavish TV series with modern references.

​An Anglo-French production about Louis XIV’s Versailles has proved a big – and relevant – hit in France. And soon we can marvel at it, too, writes Leonora Craig Cohen

Television and cinema have long had a soft spot for pre-Revolutionary France. From the charmingly anachronistic Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola to the late Alan Rickman’s garden-design romp, A Little Chaos – about an imaginary female gardener tasked with making a rockery for Versailles – it’s been rococo and rosettes every way you turn.

In Britain, one might put this down to schadenfreude, enjoying the excesses of our nearest neighbour’s deposed royalty so as to reflect on the moderation of our own. But the new Anglo-French drama Versailles – created by the British duo Simon Mirren and David Wolstencroft and coming to BBC2 this spring – has proved hugely popular in France, where it was released first, on Canal Plus. And that despite the French critics, who were reportedly furious the series is in English.

According to the creators, however, the decision was made on the basis that the story has an appeal far beyond the Francosphere. “We were these two Rosbifs who were writing the story of an iconic French monarch,” they say. “We were braced for a backlash.”

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Welcome to VERSAILLES – a world of power, betrayal, love, lust and declarations of war

King Louis XIV of France is a 17th century rock star, an extraordinary strategist and an utterly ruthless ruler. The year is 1667. Louis is 28 and finally in sole command of his kingdom. Haunted by childhood memories of a bitter coup against his father, he commissions the most beautiful palace in Europe, Versailles.

The nobles crave entry to this lavish château, not realising that its purpose is to imprison and control them. One of Louis’ prime targets is his younger brother, Monsieur, an effeminate dandy and formidable warrior. The court is also a battleground for love as Louis’ queen, Marie Therese, fights to tame his wandering eye. Can she win back his heart from his mistress, the sister of the King of England?

This epic drama takes us on a thrilling journey into the most glamourous period in history, where the cult of celebrity was born. A world of power, betrayal, love, lust and declarations of war, where courtiers battle for the King’s favour. This is Versailles in all its brutal glory.

Cast & Crew           

DirectorJalil Lespert, Christoph Schrewe, Thomas Vincent, Daniel Roby

Key talent(s)

George Blagden,

Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Amira Casar, Stuart Bowman, Dominique Blanc, Noémie Schmidt, Evan Williams, Anna Brewster, Sarah Winter, Anatole Taubman

Executive Producer(s)

Simon Mirren, David Wolstencroft


Simon Mirren & David Wolstencroft, André Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton, Sasha Hails, Andrew Bampfield


“We will build a new temple here, a royal tabernacle for the sun, a dwelling place of the divine and of the people, with a great hall of light that will follow the sunrise and shine out to all corners of the globe so they might all see the glory of France.”

Versailles (2015- ) Created by Simon Mirren and David Wolstencroft 

Versailles will be broadcast on BBC Two

Kim Shillinglaw announces ambitious range of new programmes across drama, comedy and factual for BBC Two


This sumptuous drama is set in a world of power, politics, betrayal, lust and declarations of war. The year is 1667 and King Louis XIV is a 28 year-old monarch on the cusp of greatness. A 17th century rock star and an utterly ruthless leader, he will stop at nothing to seize control of France and his enemies - and his weapon is the construction of a new seat of power and authority – the most beautiful palace in Europe and a symbol of absolute monarchy: Versailles.

Versailles takes the period genre to new dimensions, injecting a vibrant modernity into an era that put France at the epicentre of glamour, culture and fashion. The series stars George Blagden (Les Miserables, The Vikings) and Alexander Vlahos (Merlin) as Louis and his brother Philippe and was brought to life by a critically acclaimed creative team including showrunners Simon Mirren (Without a Trace, Criminal Minds), David Wolstencroft (Spooks, The Escape Artist), producers Claude Chelli (Braquo) and Anne Thomopoulos (Rome, The Tudors) and director Jalil Lespert (Yves Saint Laurent).

To accompany the drama, historians Lucy Worsley and Helen Castor draw back the curtain on the seductive world of the real Louis XIV to reveal how he became the longest serving absolute monarch in European history. As they discover in this special one hour film, it was a feat all the more remarkable as he presided over a court beset by Machiavelian intrigue, revenge, sexual scandal and bitter betrayal.

Versailles, Palace of the Playboy King is Executive Produced by Eamon Hardy, BBC Television.


“There was Maggie Smith – seen one moment on film rolling a wine glass across her forehead as the affectedly sexy Myra in Coward’s Hay Fever, the next moment present in the flesh to deliver a speech from Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem with unadorned simplicity. And to see Judi Dench moving from Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to Sondheim’s Desiree in A Little Night Music was to receive an object lesson in the power of physical stillness and flawless articulation.” (National theatre’s 50th birthday gala)

Matthew Gray Gubler: An Unauthorized Biography (Tips from Simon)
  • Matthew: You know my hair on the show? Kind nerdy.I'm thinkin',I don't know if you knew this about me,but I was thinking something more along the lines of that. (shows Sisley ad) You like that? What do you think about that? Could you push for that in the writing room?
  • Simon: (points) Is that your nipple?
  • Matthew: Yeah. Yeah,it is.
  • Simon: You got your nipple out? Are you gay?
  • Matthew: (laughs) No, I'm not. I'm not. Guys have nipples,girls have nipples. We all have nipples. Simon,you've got two nipples,are you gay?
  • Simon: No,I'm not gay.
  • Matthew: Didn't think so.
  • Simon: But I wouldn't do that though.
  • Matthew: You've got a teal sweatshirt on. You sure?
  • Simon: You've got your tits out for the boys.
  • Matthew: (laughs) Point taken.