Versailles on Ovation
..The key for me in getting into this role, was being allowed to show this really fragile side to this king, who we’ve only known really in popular culture and popular history as this omnipotent figure.” George Blagden
By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 9/30/16 – On Saturday night Oct. 1, Ovation will premier Versailles; a posh, gory and sexy historical drama set in France (1667). This is a joint British/French/Canadian production that has already enjoyed success internationally. Now it’s America’s turn.
Versailles central character is King Louis the XIV (George Blagden); a 28 year old monarch with the weight of France on his shoulders. The economy is failing due to the disappearance of tax revenues and nobody in his court seems very happy or honest. Avarice is etched into the faces of every court elder. The King strikes upon the idea of moving his court lock, stock and barrel to his father’s hunting lodge in the boonies of Versailles; a cagy move designed to keep his advisors and enemies on a tight leash, far from the bustle and socio-political back-channels of Paris. Thus begins the construction of the most palatial digs in all of Europe. Complete with manmade lake and surreally manicured gardens. The constipated old guard feign enthusiasm but are secretly livid and fearful.
Less historical epic than pulpy melodrama, Versailles is eye candy on a grand and awesome scale. There is a little something for everybody. High Couture, torture, duplicity and hot pansexual love scenes. All revolving around a brutal monarch who has a menacing mystique that commands both respect and fear.
History is adhered to (more or less) and the palace itself is as iconic and staggering a period backdrop as ever. The actors have an undeniable millennial appeal, and gender issues are touched upon. The King’s brother Monsieur Philippe d’Orléans (Alexander Vlahos) is a foppish dandy who is the one member of the court who the King can trust despite the fact he is banging Phillippe’s wife. Also, Phillippe is in love with Chevalier (Evan Williams) an Alpha topper who obviously seeks to manipulate the situation for personal gain.
Despite the bucolic isolation, the rumbling discontent of the unwashed masses is always hanging in the air, a gathering storm that would eventually manifest itself in The French Revolution.
With all that Versailles has going for it, the usual costume drama tropes are slavishly adhered to. You know the drill, everybody has ponderous English accent despite the fact everybody’s either French or Spanish. And, as always in these monarchy melodramas, there’s lots of pregnant sidelong glances and whispered confidences in the halls and archways. Moreover, the dialogue is surprisingly flat and unremarkable given the Euro pedigree of the production.
In the season premier, Versailles has a delicate and difficult balance to maintain. Which is, to provide enough sex and violence to hold the ‘attention deficit’ crowd immune to the charms of Euro-History, while maintaining the gravitas and historical integrity the characters and landscape demands. It was a mixed bag on this season premier. However, it’s my guess that Versailles will stick around and find its stride.
THT, TCA and other journalists recently had the opportunity to speak with Scott Woodward, Executive Vice President of Programming at Ovation. George Blagden who plays King Louis XIV, and Alexander Vlahos who plays Philippe, and David Wolstencroft, executive producer of “Versailles.”
David Wolstencroft spoke about obtaining access to the actual Palace of Versailles for filming:
DAVID WOLSTENCROFT: “Well, if you do a show in France about French history, then politics isn’t going to be too far away from what you’re doing. We were very, very lucky because, as soon as we announced the show, the Palace of Versailles, the Chatêau de Versailles, which is the part of, obviously, the French government patrimony, were pretty much opened doors for us, and they’re closed every Monday, so we were able to shoot there every Monday. Of course the way the palace is right now, the chateau is not the way it was in 1667 when the show starts in the beginning of Season 1. So there are elements of, like, the Marble Court. I don’t know if you but the Marble Court through the golden gates, that hasn’t really changed, but they were incredibly supportive.”
Alexander Vlahos talked about the creative input of the actors in choosing costumes that fit their characters:
ALEXANDER VLAHOS: “We also were very lucky with Madeline Fontaine, who was the costume designer on the show, that we were allowed to integrate our own ideas into the characters as the series progressed. So I can remember my first costume fitting. I was given, like, a ream of fabric, and I got to choose my two first outfits for Philippe, which I don’t think you get on a show, very rarely. The idea that I got to sit down and choose that, knowing that Louis was playing the Sun King and that there was a lot of gold and red, and I made a decision very early on that Philippe would always be the moon to the sun, and so I chose a lot of silvers and grays and blacks to sort of counteract knowing that I’d have a lot of scenes with George, and they came out with hundreds and thousands of different fabrics and materials, and I got to choose my mix and match costume, which is unbelievable. And, like George said, just backing up what he said, that the craftsmanship on the show is exquisite. You can see every bit of detail. And everything was hand crafted specifically for us. So we were very lucky actors.”
Alexander Vlahos talked about the complexities of his character Prince Phillippe:
ALEXANDER VLAHOS: “He’s a gift of a character to play as a 27 year old actor. So complex. You’re very right. I described him as quadrophenic in personality. He’s an open homosexual in a time where in Catholic courts was deemed almost completely wrong. Fearsome warrior, would lead any battle and victorious always. He’s married to his wife, but he’s also a cross dresser. There’s transvestite qualities to him.”
George Blagden talked about the impact of Versailles as a film set:
GEORGE BLAGDEN: Quite simply, incredible. I mean, we shot the first time at Versailles about two weeks into production in 2014, and we spent most of the morning in the gardens looking up at this monstrous building that symbolized everything we were trying to achieve on the show. And I think the moment where we all sort of our jaws hit the floor was at the end of that first day, we were shooting a scene that you’ve hopefully seen in episode 1 of Louis having a dream sequence doing a speech to camera envisioning this idea of light and beauty and luxury that he wants to create, and it was the end of the day, and just the idea of being this man in that room on my own is something I probably will never experience again in my career, a moment that is where everything comes together into a beautiful serendipitous amazing moment, and the sun, it was overcast all day, and just we had about six minutes to shoot it, and just as we turned over, the sun dipped under the clouds, and this orange light flooded in, just like he designed it to do, bounced off the mirrors and just filled the room in this orange light for me to do in five minutes this monologue. It was kind of like he was sort of saying something.”