Versailles finally made its American debut on Ovation with two episodes. I had to tune in to see George Blagden, my favorite monk-turned-Viking. He won all our hearts as Athelstan. Now he’s the main man himself, King Louis XIV of France, in Versailles!
The show has caused quite a stir across the Atlantic over the past two years. All the talk was about the sex scenes. But the American censors, for better or worse, have cut most of those scenes.
The story opens in 1667, Louis XIV is 28 years old. His mother is now dead. He has moved his court to Versailles, to avoid the conflict erupting with nobles in Paris.
Louis has the crazy idea that he, as king, has ultimate power. And he is adamant that he will not return to Paris. Instead he will turn his father’s hunting lodge into a palace; a temple to the gods, with himself as the sole authority in France. And his brother’s response is:
That’s pretty much everybody’s attitude. Everyone in court wants to go back to Paris. Every scene in the first episode has someone asking when they’re going back, or hinting that things would be easier in Paris. My kids acted the same way when we toured Versailles. They finally calmed down when we let them play PokemonGo in the gardens. Poor King Louis doesn’t have the benefit of these gardens yet. I wonder how he will keep everyone happy. Or if he’ll even try.
Among ministers in his court, there’s a plot to kill the King. Spanish conspirators are captured, tortured, and killed. The ministers are thwarting Louis’ attempts at getting the archives from Paris. With the archives, Louis can review their family histories and tax records. Nobody with tentative blood ties wants that.
After an attempt to physically remove him for a known threat, the king says, “The deer in those woods follow the same tracks as their ancestors. It’s instinct. Once in a while, one will turn. But those that challenge (him on the hunt), never win for one good reason – if you blindfolded me in those woods and turned me around 100 times, I would find my way back. Not a path I do not know. This is where I hunt. And this is where we will stay. We’re not going anywhere.”
We get it. This is your happy place.
My head was spinning from all the characters introduced on the first night. So in selecting my favorite moments, I’ll introduce a few of the players that revolve around the Sun King.
Our Favorite moments:
Louis has kept his childhood friend and lover, Henriette of England, by his side. The King has forced his brother to marry her. The arrangement doesn’t seem that bad for all parties involved at first: Louis’s brother Philippe is gay and won’t have much use for a wife anyway. And she is the eyes and ears for Louis on his younger brother. It doesn’t go so well for her, however, when the rivalry between brothers heats up. Philippe insists he wants a son and rapes her.
In addition to this mistress, Louis takes Louise de la Valliere as a mistress. She’ll be a pious one, who has a conflict with being a mistress.
And by the end of the second episode, Louis has his eye on his wife’s midwife, Claudine. Claudine is an outspoken woman who tries to defy social norms. Openly studying and practicing medicine would have her burned as a witch. But Louis seems to dig her, so he’ll let it slide.
There is still the matter of the lady running around with Louis in his dreams and the opening sequences. She hasn’t been introduced yet. I hope it isn’t a young version of his mother. Louis keeps having dreams about his dead mother. Vikings has left me wary of any plot line in France.
The Wife, Maria Theresa of Spain
Louis’s wife is a princess of Spain. She has already given him a son. They seem to care for each other, until she gives birth to a daughter who has dark skin. She keeps a dwarf African, Nabo, with her as a companion. The assumption is that the child is his, or maybe an African prince who hasn’t been introduced. After some back and forth on what to do, the baby goes to a convent.
The threat to Louis’s life was supposedly by Spaniards, so Maria is really in the doghouse right now.
The Younger Brother, Philippe
Phillipe is PHABULOUS. He is loyal to his brother to the point that it hurts. And he is a great warrior. And there is a rivalry between them. Wow. All the making of another Vikings storyline. Except… Oh yeah, Phillipe is gay.
Phillipe loves his brother, but the tension is building. After the threat to Louis’s life is uncovered and Louis is losing his cool, Phil pulls him together and reminds Louis, “The power lies with you.”
The purse does as well, so it seems. The best line from these episodes was Louis complaining to Phillipe, “You spent 50,000 lire on shoes.” And Phillipe replies, “You haven’t seen the shoes.”
Phillipe wants to go to war and bring glory to himself. Louis challenges him when Phillipe claims superior military knowledge. Louis tells him not to touch the pieces on the battle layout. Phillipe picks up a piece anyway and taunts Louis. He keeps playing until Louis finally throws out the royal “We”. “We will not ask again.” Phillipe concedes with, “You were never good with sharing.”
Later, Louis finally allows Phillipe to show off his military savvy in front of the ministers and ultimately announces that his brother will be in charge during battle. But is Louis trying to kill his brother off?
Here is one final fabulous Phillipe moment. He arrives at a gathering, unabashedly in drag. He is then insulted by a lowlife of the court and gouges his eye out. Yup. Kitten has claws.
The Gardener, Andre
Look to this character for all the foreshadowing in the series. A former soldier – who lost his arm – is Louis’s gardener. Why does he make a good gardener? He says he’s good at digging holes. “Trenches,” Louis assumes. “Graves,” Andre responds.
Andre seems to be the king’s soulmate when he says, “Planning for a garden like this, is not so different for the planning of war. A war fought for beauty against chaos.”
And with “My mother once told me that before a man becomes a father, he will relive his own childhood.” Andre seems to be aware of Louis’s recurring dreams of his mother and father.
Before a dinner at court, Louis checks on the garden plans and finds Andre burning some of the orange trees to prevent the spread of disease. When told he can rebuild the original stock, Louis asks, “How do you know the root stock is strong?” “I make it my business to know the providence of every tree Your Majesty receives. To know the seed, is to know the root. To know the root is to know the tree and the fruit that follows thereafter.”
This is the theme Louis later uses at the dinner party. The King announces he is vetting everyone’s family history among the court. (I wonder if he will actually burn some of them.)
King Louis VIX, the man himself.
He holds it together in public, but his dreams reveal deep issues. He is haunted that he wasn’t allowed to hold his mother’s hand at her death. He is obsessed with two things – learning who his enemies are, and building this palace.
The palace plan is revealed when Louis is in the woods, surrounded by wolves. The ministers are kinda ticked that the King runs around without protection in the woods. But with everyone plotting against him, is it any wonder he’d rather fend for himself in the woods he knows so well? Phillipe arrives, thinking his brother needs to be saved.
Louis tells Phillipe, “I am about to DRAG this country out of the darkness and into the light. We must build our own destiny right here. A new France will be reborn and this palace will be her mother.”
It left me reliving this moment:
Next week we’ll embark on the most epic home remodel ever. And if you’ve ever lived through even a minor remodel, you know people are gonna get cranky. I expect a lot of “What do you mean we can’t do that?” and “Why is this taking so long?” and “No, I don’t like that color.”
Image Credits: Ovation