Review of BBC Two's Versailles

The second season of BBC Versailles is well underway – and I’m still hooked! The court of Louis XIV comes to life in this visually indulgent production which, in my opinion, rivals court dramas akin to The Tudors and The Borgias in terms of sex and scandal.

The lavish costume design and setting of the show provide a banquet for the eyes, offsetting the sophisticated dramatic performances. One of the most impressive performances is that of Alexander Vlahos playing Phillippe d’Orleans, the brother of Louis XIV. 

While studying society and culture in early modern France this year, I learnt of the extents to which homosexuality was largely tolerated yet simultaneously ostracised among the elites. This made for a complex sense of identity among men like Phillippe, who had homosexual leanings. Vlahos captures such confusion in his excellent portrayal of the Prince, who is torn between his duty as a patriarch and his love for Chevalier.

Another aspect of the show I find captivating is the scope in which David Wolstencroft allows women in his writing. Characters such as Louis’ mistress Madame de Montespan and Phillippe’s wife the Princess Palatine show the extent to which women could influence court life and their powerful male counterparts.  They certainly challenge the historical notion of the passive female within the period Versailles is set.

The character of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’ himself, however, is central to the show’s success. I love how Louis isn’t an out and out ‘good’ or ‘bad’ character. Everyone at court is liable to the danger of his whims, and none suffer more than his mistresses and poor brother, who is allowed not an inch of limelight. Yet, I find myself routing for Louis. In a recent plot twist when Louis confronts his nemesis William of Orange, I too found myself shunning William as the enemy as he slandered Versailles’ visual magnificence, which viewers can’t help but enjoy.

George Blagden captures the many contradictory aspects of Louis’ character brilliantly, particularly his paranoia. This brings the concept of power and the problems it can bring down to a more human level, preventing what critic Amy Blumsom describes as too much self-importance. 

And naturally, the sordid love affairs, meticulous intrigue and raging competitiveness within Versailles make the show enjoyable not just for a lover of history but for a lover of good TV! The show is very sexy and everyone in it is beautiful, but we can’t deny that this enhances our viewing experience. After all, ‘Learning whilst yearning’ never hurt anyone!

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