‘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.”
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)
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?
(points) Is that your nipple?
Yeah. Yeah,it is.
You got your nipple out? Are you gay?
(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?
No,I'm not gay.
Didn't think so.
But I wouldn't do that though.
You've got a teal sweatshirt on. You sure?
Filming – Jalil Lespert is directing ‘Versailles’, a series for Canal Plus, co-written with the author of ‘Criminal Minds’. The result is going to be explosive. « Come on, we finish it, there’s a game tonight! », shouts Jalil Lespert, electronic-cigarette in hand, white skin-tight tee-shirt, fitted jeans and vintage trainers. This Wednesday, it’s the beginning of the Champions League for the PSG team, in the studios of Bry-Sur-Marne (Val de Marne) the 38-year old director supervises the ceremony of Louis XIV’s lever, a scene from the first episode of ‘Versailles’, a super production in ten episodes for Canal Plus. Since August 18th, he is setting up the « aesthetic DNA » and is directing the first two episodes. « We don’t cut, we go on… » From the study nearby the king’s bedroom, richly reproduced, the director of ‘Yves Saint-Laurent’, released at the beginning of the year, multiplies the takes. « He does it a lot, he’s a film director, that’s why we have quality », whispers Philippe Alessandri, from Zodiak, co-productor with Capa Drama (‘Braquo’) and the Canadian company Incendo. A series filmed in English in order to promote international sales. « We are at the moment when Louis XIV decides to build Versailles, an architectural and political project: to extend definitely his absolute power, “he’s going to gradually transform it into a gilded prison for the gentry », explains Claude Chelli, co-productor for Capa. To tell this story, they have hired Simon Mirren – Helen Mirren’s nephew, the Oscar-winning actress for her part in ‘The Queen’ - who is the producer and scriptwriter of ‘Criminal Minds’. For the Englishman, who is fascinated by the psychology of the character, « Louis XIV was probably a psychopath or at least a sociopath with a high tendency to paranoia ». With the help of the scriptwriter David Wolsencroft, author of a thesis about the sovereign, he has built-up a plot about the King, his relationships with Monsieur, his brother, and the construction of Versailles, a flamboyant self-portrait of the Sun King (Roi Soleil) to be. Long wavy brown hair, neatly trimmed moustache and sparkling blue eyes, it’s the Englishman George Blagden, seen as an Athelstan monk in ‘Vikings’, who plays “The King of the Sun”, as he says. A 28-year old sovereign is dressed out of bed, in a sort of ballet during which he meets the gaze of his mother, Anne of Austria, played by Dominique Blanc… the Queen has died a year ago. It’s a ghost who is going to guide him through his choices. “We are doing fiction, we enter inside King’s head”, continues Chelli. It was important to show what is behind politics, to know why he behaves like that.” “Simon, the writer, asked me to do boxing to get close to the psychology of a psychopath”, explains George Blagden, who only knew that he has got the part three weeks before the beginning of the filming. “Jalil recommended me to watch La Reine Margot, by Patrice Chéreau, he continues. It made me understand that history is written by the powerful ones.” “When we were rehearsing la Reine Margot, Patrice Chéreau (Editor’s note : deceased in October 2013) talked about Shakespeare, he had worked in England before, and knowing that he has inspired this young and talented English generation moves me a lot, whispers Dominique Blanc during the lunch break. I hope that, from above, he follows everything.” Without “direct references” actually, Jalil Lespert intends to “forbid himself with nothing” and definitely is not “getting caught up in the magnificence of the scenery” which he wants to film as “a suburban police station”. In his “sensitive and absolutely Machiavellian” Louis XIV, he sees a brilliant man fitted with “a real inspiration”. “Like Jimi Hendrix”, he says with a smile. And Monsieur, his brother ? “It’s The Stooges (Editor’s note : Iggy Pop’s band) at the court.” No doubts, ‘Versailles’, that we will discover at the end of 2015, will be rock’n’roll.
With 27M€ for ten episodes of 52 minutes, the series ‘Versailles’ is one of Canal Plus most expensive production. The TV channel has regularly put the means of cinema at the service of TV fiction. ‘Versailles’ doesn’t break this rule with 13% of its budget, so 3,5 M€, devoted for the sceneries. Tapestries, fireplace in fake painted marble, panelling, gildings, furniture… On 1400m², the interiors of Versailles as they were at the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV, were recreated at Bry by the crew of Katia Wyszkop. The production designer never worked for the television, but mostly with Pialat, Ozon or Jacquot on “Farewell my Queen” for which she won a César in 2013. For the costumes, Canal Plus called Madeline Fontaine, who won two Césars for “Un Long Dimanche de Fiancailles” and “Séraphine”. Here, a dress can take a week of work for several persons. Between location and creation, the filming will require more than a thousand costumes. It represents 6% of the budget, 1,75 M€.
(with all the precious help of @Kestenn who checked and fixed my first translation)
Antje Traue, Simon Curtis, Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds and Daniel Brühl attend the ‘Woman in Gold’ premiere during the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival at Friedrichstadt-Palast on February 9, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.
Actuellement en tournage, la nouvelle production de Canal+ sera l'événement de la rentrée audiovisuelle de 2015. Un budget de 27 millions d'euros, une histoire mouvementée… La série est déjà riche de promesses.
Vêtu d'une robe de bure sombre, capuche enfoncée sur la tête, l'homme, au visage entièrement grimé de noir et à la stature imposante, donne des frissons. Il franchit rapidement la porte d'une chapelle plongée dans la pénombre et se penche sur l'autel pour accomplir un acte mystérieux. La scène est rejouée trois ou quatre fois jusqu'à ce que le réalisateur allemand Christoph Schrewe soit satisfait. Impossible d'en savoir plus auprès de l'équipe sur ce personnage. Lui-même reste impassible entre les prises. Apparemment, son rôle dans la série « Versailles », où il est, ce jour de tournage, le centre de l'attention, est une des clefs de l'intrigue. Celle-ci a pour toile de fond la construction du château entre 1667 et 1670, au début du règne du Roi-Soleil.
It was such a great experience working with you. I know the fans will miss you but not nearly as much as the crew and writers. You lifted scenes and moments that were not even on the page and raised the bar every time you graced the set.
I know I have said this to you many times but it’s rare to see actors who love the craft as much as you. In South London slang, YOU ARE THE DOGS BOLLOCKS!! Look it up in wiki for translation.
Welcome to VERSAILLES – a world of power, betrayal, love, lust and declarations of war
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
Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Amira Casar, Stuart Bowman,
Dominique Blanc, Noémie Schmidt, Evan Williams, Anna Brewster, Sarah
Winter, Anatole Taubman
Simon Mirren, David Wolstencroft
Simon Mirren & David Wolstencroft, André Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton, Sasha Hails, Andrew Bampfield
Versailles Photocall by mipmarkets VERSAILLES (Canal+; Zodiak Rights).In presence of George Blagden (Actor), Alexander Vlahos (Actor), Jalil Lespert (Director), Simon Mirren (Showrunner) and David Wolstencroft (Showrunner).