TV Review: Versailles (Season 2, Episode 1)
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Versailles returns to our screens and is as opulent and delicious as ever, indulging in all things scandalous and promising audiences scenes of sex and murder on every corner.
The first episode is fast paced throughout, teasing viewers with tantalising treats including gruesome deaths and sexual debauchery without a moment's rest, lest we all awaken from the dream that is Versailles.
Opening to the immediate aftermath of Henriette’s (Noémie Schmidt) murder and the dauphin’s abduction, audiences witness a Versailles under attack and a king in turmoil. Furious and heartbroken Louis (George Blagden) is crueller and more determined than ever, both to finish the construction of his palace and to thwart his enemies once and for all. As such, viewers should prepare for a colder yet still desirable Louis and as a result, a colder Versailles to match.
Unsurprisingly Louis is still the lothario that audiences came to know in the first season, as his relationship with Madame de Montespan (Anna Brewster) deepens and his relationship with his wife (Elisa Lasowski) remains strained. Indeed, the first episode suggests that once again a significant storyline in the show will be how Louis balances the women in his life and how he separates love from business. Madame de Montespan is undeniably more ambitious than either the queen or Louis’ previous mistresses and it will certainly be entertaining to see how she uses her sexuality to climb ever closer to the power of the crown. Both she and Louis are strong and passionate characters and, if this episode is anything to go by, these traits will act both as an attraction and a repellent, leading to more fights in the future.
By now, audiences are aware that beneath the entrancing beauty of Versailles, true ugliness awaits and this certainly looks to be a prominent theme in the second season of the show. From the very start, Louis begins his battle against poison, determined to eradicate it from his court even as it becomes more popular among his courtiers. At the same time, he must fight the ever growing influence of William of Orange (George Webster) as spies in his court continue to serve the enemy and plot his demise.
Louis’ brother Philippe (Alexander Vlahos) is as charming as ever, entrancing the audience with his wit and beauty, though there is undeniably a more sombre tone to the character following the death of his wife and banishment of his lover. Nevertheless, he remains a large contributor to the wicked humour of the show, and offers audiences an escape from the dark deeds occurring at Versailles. Choosing to remain away from Versailles and his brother, with whom his relationship remains complicated, Philippe embraces pleasure and plenitude with a delightful group of handsome and dim-witted young men. Alexander Vlahos once more offers an impressive performance as Philippe, adding a delicious complexity to the show. The most notable element of Vlahos’ performance is the forceful impression his character makes in this episode, despite only appearing in a few scenes. An actor who can accomplish this is certainly to be applauded and will undoubtedly offer more engaging performances as the season continues.
Similarly impressive performances are given by George Blagden and Tygh Runyan, who return to their characters with a vigour and passion that jumps off the screen. Blagden offers an engaging performance in Versailles, shifting from gentle lover to furious monarch flawlessly, allowing the episode to maintain the attention and interest of the viewer throughout. Meanwhile Runyan is suitably terrifying as Fabien Marchal, the King’s head of security. A man not easily forgotten due to the brutal torture we often witness him carry out, Marchal is a forceful character who is well suited to the vicious nature of life at Versailles. This being said, do not underestimate Runyan as a man merely suited to playing the aggressor - this episode shows he has a surprising ability to portray gentleness and hesitant affection, as shown through his scenes with the women in his life, including Sophie and Claudine.
This first episode is a success, starting the second season of Versailles off with a bang. Despite the chaos and intrigue of last season, it seems there might somehow be even more drama afoot this year, offering audiences the sinful delights of the French court and all the corruption that comes with it.
Versailles airs on Fridays at 9.30pm on BBC Two.