For every generation, there is a new version of “The Three Musketeers.” The French novel written by Alexandre Dumas in 1844 had all the ingredients of adventure and romance to make it a publishing hit, followed by film classics.
Now comes a TV series, “The Musketeers” on BBC America, with yet another swashbuckling, sword fighting and — in episode one — very muddy take on it.
This is a more modern interpretation than most. “What I didn’t want to do is adapt the novel too faithfully,” says Adrian Hodges, the series’ writer, “because I just felt that that had been done a lot.”
The original novel centered on a spirited young man, D’Artagnan, who comes to Paris to join the King’s Musketeers during the reign of Louis XIII (1601-1643). On the way, he meets three men, ending up challenging them to duels. It turns out they are Musketeers — Athos, a brooding aristocrat with a messy past, Porthos, a drunken brawler, and Aramis, a lady’s man. After the misunderstandings are cleared up, D’Artangan joins them as a Musketeer. Their persistent enemy is the monarch’s power adviser, Cardinal Richelieu, and his henchwoman, Milady.
In the BBC’s new version, the changes start from the first episode. Here D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino) and his father fall afoul of a bandit group whose leader claims to be “Athos of the King’s Musketeers.” His father killed, D’Artagnan heads for Paris for justice and revenge. One thing is the same: Their nemesis is still Cardinal Richelieu (Peter Capaldi, who has moved on to be the new “Doctor Who”).
With the exception of Pasqualino, all of the “Musketeers” actors did their homework by reading the novel.
Tom Burke, who plays Athos, says he’s read it three times, and “I still dip into it.”
Years before he was told that he should play Athos but “I was far too young to play it. I’ve been really keen to play that character ever since,” and he enjoys the Hodges take on the character.
Burke says while Athos is the best sword fighter in the regiment, “There’s something slightly ridiculous about dueling etiquette because it’s about two people hurting each other. “
Howard Charles has based his own interpretation of Porthos on Dumas’ own half-African and half-French father who was one of Napoleon’s generals. Charles, who is Jamaican-Briton, was “was keenly aware that this was going to be a Porthos unlike any other, based on the fact that, one, I’m mixed-race and two, we weren’t going to create a fat, drunk gambler.” He used the recent Pulitzer Prize biography of Gen. Alex Dumas, “The Black Count” written by Tom Reiss, to “build my own character.”
“I often describe Porthos as a human hurricane and when I say human hurricane I mean on the inside of that hurricane, the eye of the storm,” says Charles, “But when you cross the threshold of that eye, or you cross him, or the people that he loves, then you are in a tempest of discomfort.”
Santiago Cabrera, who plays the womanizing Aramis, says for him the show has “a sense of fun and adventure of high stakes, also you know, brotherhood … but reinvented in a new way, unique and different from any other version.”
He’s enjoying playing a character “with a sense of humor as well as being a fighter, warrior and all that. I love that sort of tongue-in-cheek sense of humor of it as well so it was different for me.”
Luke Pasqualino, as D’Artagnan, says his character has “huge appetite for justice. He lets a lot hang over his head, he holds grudges with a lot of people.”
All have seen at least some of Richard Lester’s light-hearted 1973 version of “The Three Musketeers.”
“I really, really liked it,” said Cabrera. “It’s very much the book but then I stayed away from because I didn’t want these images start creeping into your mind.”
Hodges said he tried to catch some of that “unique blend of humor, wit, almost slapstick at times, but then that incredible darkness when it needs it.”
Everyone enjoys the filming in the Czech Republic where, says Hodges, they’ve built a mini-studio where “we shoot all our Paris locations and the Musketeer garrison.”
They also have had access to film in places usually not accessible to the public. “We’ve had the privilege of filming in locations that are rarely open to anyone,” says Charles, “let alone the public or a film crew, so they’ve been kind enough to open it up to us, and we respectfully use them.”
Pasqualino says, there are “so many of these monasteries and castles and getting the pleasure of filming inside of them (is) incredible.”
Series writer Hodges says, “You can have fun, you can have the swashbuckling thing that everybody always talks about when they talk about the Musketeers, but actually you can really go into some dark and serious places as well.”
A day after “The Musketeers” premieres Sunday on BBC America, it will be available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Microsoft Xbox Video, Sony PSN and Vudu.
9 p.m. EDT Sunday