Long before Versailles even hit British television screens tabloids were publishing scandalous pictures of naked royals in the throes of passion, which, apparently, was the be-all and end-all of this new lavish production. I’m here to tell you, yes, there’s sex, but no, there’s more to it than that. Just.
The joint Franco-Canadian television series premiered last November in France, and for all its faults, livens up mid-week television. This is decadence personified; clearly no euros or dollars have been wasted. Sweepingly heady camera shots open the show, displaying a vivid colour palette as we traverse the French countryside and the setting of the title. There’s no denying they’ve captured the indulgence of Louis XIV’s court.
Versailles was the centre of political power from 1682, and where the young French king holed himself up following several civil wars. Played by George Blagden (Vikings, Les Misérables), in full Machiavellian mode – think Jonathan Rhys Meyers channelling Henry VIII – the king decides all the nobles of Paris should relocate to this former hunting lodge. Needless to say this doesn’t go down too well with the old gents.
Throw in a few extra-marital affairs, a younger brother looking to outmanoeuvre his elder one, and a pregnant Queen with a dwarf hidden beneath her skirts (yes, really) and we have the makings of a rather grand soap opera. Certainly much of the acting is no better than anything you’d see on Emmerdale but that’s not a fault, merely an observation.
We cover pretty much everything here – from conception to labour, with some scary looking devices laid out to assist the poor Queen as she gives birth to her second child.
Let’s be honest, people had some odd ideas back in the day; not content with a gathering around the marital bed it seems they also held a mini-birthing party too (let’s not resurrect this tradition), as half of the royal court gathered in the ‘birthing chamber’ to watch the Spanish Princess give birth.
And lo and behold in that moment the first mini-soap-like emotional climax was born… a black baby! So it seems the dwarf was doing more than hide beneath the Queen’s skirts.
I have no doubt this biographical drama is not meant to be taken seriously. The writers aren’t here to educate you on French history, merely touch upon it, it’s much more about the human side of life, albeit the richer one. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to enjoy, or laugh at, and that in itself is enjoyable.
Versailles is no Wolf Hall, it’s not even The Tudors. But it is entertaining, and on a Wednesday night that’s pretty much all I need.
- Aired on BBC2, June 1 2016 at 21:00. Available on BBC iPlayer