The Musketeers (1×04) “The Good Soldier” – Review

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The Musketeers Season 1 rumbles on – but is “The Good Soldier” any good?

THE MUSKETEERS - BBC TWO

“Yes I’m familiar with the roles we play.”

This week we open, perhaps surprisingly, with our heroes on the point of boredom, in a sunny set-piece at the King’s palace. It’s an intriguing opener, with an assassination attempt, a chase through a maze and the heavy hint of political scandal – but it’s also very wordy, with great loads of exposition dumped before the titles roll.

Actually, that’s the biggest problem with The Good Soldier. It’s a wordy script in general, and the words chosen are at times clunky. The scene between the Cardinal and Captain Treville should be tense and catty but instead it is contrived as both men tell each other things that they already know. The actors are trying their best but the dialogue is forcing them to sum each other up in cohesive sentences. “You’re endless tricks and deceptions” just flags up a signpost: he’s the villain. He tricks. He deceives. We can hear the writer a little too much.

“I appreciate a melodrama as much as the next man…”

It’s actually the visuals that stand out this week. Director Richard Clark has a keen and attentive eye, making snowy flashbacks effective and duels more tense. The shot that cranes out of the window and down onto the multi-colored maze is beautiful and well-judged, and the torture scenes are refreshingly restrained for a show of this type. The CGI cityscape is very convincing as well, although the rain scenes are less so. If this had been shot in England they would not have had to contend with sun for scenes that were supposed to be rainy! And already I’m sick of that pillared corridor in the palace. We must have seen it 80 times since the series began. Perhaps I should start a corridor count as well as a fight count?

“Better to die a musketeer than live like a dog…!”

And the “good” soldier dies, slumping into a hug with his old friend. It was a predictable ending but well-realised. The format of The Musketeers seems to be, guest star comes in, guest star causes havoc, guest star dispatched. Or perhaps I’m being unfair to the show, and that’s actually the format of most ongoing dramas?

But before we get to that point the story treats us to lots of highs and lows. I actually think the royal scenes are among the weakest in the show, partially because I remain unconvinced by Ryan Gage’s performance and King Louis as a character, and partially because it’s just dull! They’re sat in perfect harmony and leisure and the story is thundering on elsewhere!

There’s a pleasing twist in the story for Captain Treville which is gratefully-received as he’s been quite unremarkable until now, and D’Artagnan and Constance are lovely together as always. Murray Gold’s music, particularly under the line “You may be content to do nothing, I am not!”, a big gear-change in the narrative, is fantastically rousing and Peter Capaldi saying the line “How awkward” is one of my TV highlights of 2014.

One of the biggest triumphs though is the duel scene, that feels so much more dramatic than the fights we have seen before this because it is properly acted between two full-blooded characters, and it’s well-placed in the story. It’s not fluff to fulfill the ‘action’ remit; it’s essential to the narrative. Plus it’s concise and the humiliation at the end is tense.

Final verdict

Another solid outing for The Musketeers with some occasionally disappointing dialogue, this episode in particular proves my argument that all of these swashbuckling dramas are the same: it felt more like Ripper Street with the exploration of past demons and an unraveling mystery.

Next week: Ashley Walters! One of Britain’s finest actors. Excellent!

Fight count: Previous total = 10. New total = 14.