We’ve been eagerly awaiting the U.S. premiere of the TV series Versailles pretty much since we started the Frock Flicks blog. No lie — August 2014 was our first post about it, the month we launched! We’ve posted regular updates ever since, and now, this weekend, after having aired in France in late 2015 and in the U.K. last summer, Versailles will finally come to the states via Ovation. Whew.
Of course, we have high expectations after all this build up. It’s like two years of foreplay, so there better be a money shot! And yes, the euphemism is appropriate because this series promises to be super sexy, dealing with Louis XIV’s rapacious sexual appetite plus the long-rumored homosexual affairs of his brother, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. One of the key relationships is the triangle between the King and his brother’s wife, Henrietta of England — it was suggested that her and Philippe’s first child, Marie Louise, was actually fathered by Louis XIV (although Philippe did have three more children and founded both the House of Orléans and the House of Bourbon). Anyway, there’s legit historical anecdotes for all the sexytimes Versailles will focus on.
But what else can we expect from this 10-part show? Frock Flicks is planning a podcast and some in-depth articles about the costumes and such, but let’s just start with the basics, in case you’ve missed out. Make sure to click all the links if you really want to prep for this crazy thing.
1. The Cast
They’re fairly unknown! Unless you’re deeply familiar with British and Canadian soap operas and teen shows (Degrassi: The Next Generation, anyone?), you probably won’t recognize many of these actors. George Blagden, who plays Louis XIV, had a small part in Vikings for a few years , and Alexander Vlahos, who plays Philippe, was Mordred on the BBC’s Merlin, so yeah, they were working actors. But not household names a la Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.
2. The Costumes (and the Hair)
Striving for historical accuracy, but we don’t know what the results are yet! As we reported earlier, the production spent lavishly on the costumes, so they’ll at least be shiny. Costume designer Madeline Fontaine told Women’s Wear Daily that she and her team made about 100 of the costumes for the principle actors, and she had costumes for the extras farmed out. We’ve already spotted some recycled costumes too. Each costume required a great deal of yardage, which was problematic for Fontaine. She said:
“We spent a lot of time sourcing fabrics, across France and Europe. Fabric-makers in France are closing down, so it was hard to find enough. We wanted great-quality fabrics.”
That may account for a few things we see on screen. But she tried not to skimp on the layers. According to the actors, the costumes seemed less-than-modern, FWIW. Said Blagden of his royal robes:
“We were filming outside in summer, it was 27 degrees and I was dripping with sweat. I said to the costume designer, ‘I’m wearing five layers and you can only see two of them. Can’t I take some off?’ She said, ‘No, George. If you do that, the jacket won’t sit right.’ No one was willing to cut any corners.”
Hold on, we’ll be the final judge of that. Oh yes, we will. But you’ll have to wait for our upcoming podcast and articles (there’s 10 weeks of this after all!). I will note that, Blagden / Louis XIV promoted Bumble and Bumble styling products on Twitter for the King’s handsome long locks. #HairGoals
3. The Locations
Some of the series was filmed in Versailles itself, such as the iconic Hall of Mirrors, the grand courtyard, and some of the gardens. But, as producer Claude Chelli notes, the palace doesn’t have an especially accurate 17th-century look these days. He blames Marie-Antoinette and said, “She loved flowers so they adorn the walls it’s nothing to do with Louis. So we had to find other palaces around Paris to film in a real 17th-century setup.”
Thus, the bulk of the show was filmed in the more period-appropriate Vaux-le-Vicomte. Some of the big party and dancing scenes were filmed at ballrooms in the very 17th-century chateau Maisons-Laffitte, while the comparatively less impressive Lésigny was used for the lower nobles quarters. Other French chateaus that stood in for parts of Versailles include Pierrefonds, Vigny, Janvry, Sceaux, Rambouillet, and the gardens of Champs-sur-Marne.
4. The Fictional Characters
Shades of The Tudors, eek! While all the main characters are legit historical figures and their basic story arcs follow what really happened, “dramatization” seems to have snuck in. Watch out for all these totally made-up villains:
- The Duke of Cassel from northern France
- A Protestant named Béatrice de Claremont and her wide-eyed daughter Sophie
- A masked assassin named Mike (why is this “Mike” and not “Michael”?!? who in the 17th-century was just “Mike”?!?), who is working with Louis de Rohan
- A total jerk named Montcourt who (spoilers!) kills off a bunch of also-fictional people
Fictional good-guys include:
- The King’s head of security, Fabien Marchal
- The King’s one-armed gardener, Jacques
- The King’s medical advisors, Dr. Masson and his daughter/assistant Claudine (historically, women didn’t practice medicine at the court, and Louis’ real doctor during this period was Antoine Vallot)
Y’know, there were plenty of real people they could have thrown into the mix, but whatever. If you want to pre-nitpick the history (other than the costumes), the U.K.’s Telegraph runs through Versailles TV vs. history point-by-point..
5. Three Seasons, Plus Netflix
Yep, we’re getting Versailles season one in the states right now, but season two has been filmed, and season three is already commissioned! And after season one airs on Ovation (which is a basic cable channel that you may have otherwise ignored, but I’ve written about here before), Versailles eventually goes to Netflix, which helped fund the production. So strap yourselves in and get ready for more sex and wild hair, baby.
Will you be watching Versailles? Have you already seen it in France or the U.K.?
‘A small role on vikings’ HE WAS THE HEART AND SOUL OF THAT SERIES.
I watched the whole first season of Versailles online months ago. It’s very good! I really enjoyed the women’s outfits. They looked alright to me, but I’m not so knowledgable beyond the general shape. Henrietta of England has a storyline and I’m delighted. I’ve been fascinated by her since I read Jean Plaidy’s book about Charles II.
YES YES YES! He was AMAZING in Vikings <3
I’m not usually one for pretty, slim boys, but oh-la-la, I would genuflect for George Blagden as Louis… errm, something like that….
I’m really excited about this show. I hope it delivers!
Also, on a totally different note, and at the risk of sounding nitpicky… Philippe, Duke of Orléans (the brother of Luis XIV) is, indeed, the founder of the House of Orléans, but he is certainly not the founder of the House of Bourbon. The House of Bourbon descends from St. Luis IX of France himself (13th century). It was founded as a minor branch of the ruling Capetian Line, and started gaining importance during the late 15th century, when the Bourbons became Kings of Navarre. And during the mid-16 century, they would become Kings of France through the marriage of Henri of Bourbon (Henri IV of France) to Marguerite of Valois.
Philippe was part of that House, certainly not the founder.
I’m a bit of a history nitpick, sorry…
Thank you, Alba! I was about to jump in about the House of Bourbon gaffe. I also wonder why anyone would think a fictional character from northern France could possibly be called the “Duke of Cassel” when Cassel was a small duchy in the Holy Roman Empire.
I’ll give the first episode a go, but if too much is historically off, I’m not going to waste my time.
Saw the first two eps. Biggest complaint: no hats! There are far too many scenes where the men should be wearing them and they’re not. Whether it will be mentioned or not, it has been thought by many that “Monsieur” (Phillipe) poisoned his wife, “Minette,” possibly because she got in the way of his affaires. There has never been any suggestion that she was the King’s mistress. Her mother Henriette Marie, former Queen of England, also died in the French court, but mostly from despair and neglect, She was pretty much treated as the poor relation.
Hats would interfere with the flowing locks! ;)
At this point, we should be seeing wigs, to which the hats were often pinned. For an excellent description of later 17th-century life details, read “The Devil In Velvet” by John Dickson Carr.
Yes there is a serious lack of wigs. Saw it when BBC had it.
I don’t understand why the story line is so fictionalized – the truth was scandalous enough!
NOOOOO!!!!!! I’ve been waiting for this show forever, and just realized this weekend that I don’t have ovation. Let the wait continue… :(. Slightly devastated her.
I was a bit surprised I enjoyed this show so much. I try not to be upset over wonky clothes as I know there are several factors at play when deciding on costumes. And I quite liked the costumes- there has been some thoughts on character and status. But they play hard and fast with historical facts and that usually irks me. Somehow it was done in a way I could live with. :)
I admit I got a good laugh when a character contemplates a painting of two of Louis daughters who at this point of the narrative isn’t even born yet.
Good thing there is a lot of costume porn because the people are mostly boring and the women are interchangeable. To me, the only interesting character so far (I’ve finished 5 episodes — can’t binge-watch because I’m bored) is Phillipe. I’m wondering how such a prat as Louis could morph in the Sun King. The men are prettier than the women too. Yawn.
Loved the series Versailles….thank you……magnificent……!!!!!!!
The series only touched lightly on the biggest ever scandal in French history: the Affair of the Poisons. As far as I know, it has been filmed only once in France and never done in English. There are two books by that title and both are worth reading. The story of the nuns of Loudoun hasn’t been done all that much either, and it was another big scandal/ Aldous Huxley covered it in a book, “The Devils of Loudoun” and Ken Russell filmed it as “The Devils.” It was a part of the witch-mania that swept over Europe rather ironically in the Age of Enlightenment, and came to these shores both in the colonies of Massachusetts and New York, where the only burning of a witch took place in this country. It was so horrific that it was never done again.