The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On No Longer Being A Purist

So, I have been a fan of Alexandre Dumas since I was a boy, and saw the Richard Lester/George MacDonald Fraser The Three Musketeers; when I was ten, my grandmother gave me a copy of the novel, and it was one of the first two "big boy" books I ever read (the other being The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes).

So you would think I would hate the free adaptation of the novel the BBC is running, right?

Well, no. I'm not the purist I was, it seems.

I'm not sure why; I used to have no stomach for free adaptations, and grudge every variation from the vision of the original creator's vision. Although, in retrospect, Lester and Fraser were free enough, adding humor to Dumas's story, while following his plot line pretty closely.

I think that I originally saw "unfaithful" adaptations as just that; a breach of loyalty to the original. But now I see them as works on their own; variations, explorations, refinements, recastings, which should stand or fall on their own merits. And that's been true since the dawn of storytelling. Take the example of Oedipus; the basic narrative framework remains the same, from version to version--Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides--but within the broad scheme, incidents vary, characters play different roles.

The Musketeers is more free than most adaptations, but it's worth a whirl. After all, Dumas varied wildly from his own source material.


rick allen said...

These things strike people so differently. I've always loved the Dumas Musketeers (read an abridged version as a kid, the whole thing as a young adult, and occasionally struggle with the original in French for the fun of it). I've always felt that Richard Lester's 2-film version was true enough, for me, because it followed the plot, and retained, in a slap-sticky way, the breeziness of the original (until, of course, the execution of SPOILER ALERT Milady). In most film versions, though, the musketeers are no better than swashbuckling Marvell comics heros.

I was looking forward to the BBC version, but had to turn it off after 30 minutes. That earnest D'Artagnon, off to avenge his father, who was seeking tax relief from the king! Where's the chivalry in that?

And the costumes! It looked more like Dune than seventeenth century France--Richelieu in that black leather outfit, subtly trimmed in red, with a small pectoral cross.

Richlieu is the character the poor adaptions always get wrong, I think. They make him a villian, an evil man, a cruel egotist. Whatever the historical man was, Dumas' Richelieu, though cunning, powerful and ruthless, always seeks the advantage of France. Ultimately, he and the musketeers are on the same side (as shown in the novel's last scene). This series' randy stage-villian seemed to me to entirely miss that careful tactician whom the musketeers oppose (even while joining forces with him at La Rochelle).

Don't get me wrong. You enjoyed it; it's a matter of taste. I still think Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure one of the great movies of the eighties. But, having just shut off the television, fresh from the series, I thought I might treat your readers to a dissenting view, from one who will thereby admittedly run the risk of being a purist, even of barely-historical melodrama.

Anglocat said...

No problem, Rick, and glad to have the dissenting view.

Yes, the opening episode savers of the preposterous. I do like that they have set up the characters ( other than d'Artagnan) with much the same configuration as the novel--Milady and Athosclearly have a backstory close to if not identical to the book's, Aramis, as amorist and intriguer, Porthos competent and raffish, and Capakdi as Richelieu brought in later scenes more depth and strategic vision.

But yes, the two 1970s films remain the gold standard. (I also love Fraser's own novels). We will see if this adaptation can find its stride. I can use so e musketeering, even if it isn't first rate.

Anglocat said...

Typos-- the pre-coffee bane...