The exploits of Alexandre Dumas’ Los Trois Mousquetaires – The Three Musketeers – remain, like the very best literary creations, ripe for constant reinvention. The BBC’s latest, lavish interpretation of the swashbuckling escapades of D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis has been a moderate success (the third and final series is imminent) but back in the 1960s, Dumas’ classic was the stuff of Sunday night teatime family entertainment. In 1966, Dumas’ original novel was brought to life in a ten-part serial starring Jeremy Brett, and while that production, oddly, remains locked in the BBC vaults gathering dust (although it’s been released in the USA), the sixteen-episode sequel series, screened in 1967, now finds its way onto DVD courtesy of Simply Media.
The Further Adventures of the Musketeers is based on Dumas’ novel Twenty Years After and sees D’Artagnan, older but not necessarily much wiser, press-ganged into the service of the wily Cardinal Mazarin who hires D’Artagnan to reassemble the long-disbanded Musketeers. D’Artagnan sets out to find his former colleagues but discovers that they are very different men twenty years later (but then so is D’Artagnan; he’s now played by Joss Ackland) and in time he persuades them to rejoin the cause, however reluctantly, and the four are soon back in action protecting the Queen of Austria, a youthful Louis IX and Mazarin himself as a public rebellion threatens their safety. The Musketeers’ own loyalties are tested further when they find themselves becoming involved in the English Civil War and the subsequent execution of King Charles I.
Twenty Years After is a dense, multi-layered narrative and these sixteen twenty-five minute episodes make a decent fist of bringing it to the screen. But it’s heavy-going stuff in places, often worthy but dull and it’s astonishing to imagine the 1960s family audience it was aimed at becoming engrossed by its web of political and religious intrigues and stodgy royal posturing. Fortunately, it’s a handsomely-mounted production, lavish by 1960s BBC standards, boasting sumptuous and detailed sets, impressive location filming and even some decent action set pieces. Ackland’s D’Artagnan in notably more intense than Brett’s version and he’s supported by an impressive roster of British thesps as his fellow Musketeers, from Brian Blessed (firing on all vocal cylinders whenever possible, of course), Jeremy Young (just four years after his appearance as a grunting caveman in the very first Doctor Who serial) and legendary British character actor John Woodvine.
Typically, Simply Media have done no restoration work on the prints and the mix of fairly sharp studio-recorded material and grainy filmed inserts is constantly jarring. But then The Further Adventures of the Musketeers is almost certainly for connoisseurs of obscure vintage TV only; anyone looking for slick, fast-paced adventures in the style of more recent Musketeer manifestations will find little to engage them in this wordy, stagey, yet pleasingly-faithful rendition of the second of a literary series sometimes referred to as ‘the D’Artagnan Romances.’ An historical oddity in more ways than one.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE MUSKETEERS / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: HUGH DAVID, CHRISTOPHER BARRY / SCREENPLAY: ALEXANDER BARON / STARRING: JOSS ACKLAND, BRIAN BLESSED, WILLIAM DEXTER, JOHN WOODVINE, JEREMY YOUNG / RELEASE DATE: MAY 23RD