TV Review: Versailles (Season 2, Episode 9)
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This episode sees Versailles play host to broken lovers, as past relationships play a key role in the episode and the winners and losers of these pairings become abundantly clear.
Madame de Montespan (Anna Brewster) continues to slip from grace in this episode, turning to dark magic in a desperate attempt to woe Louis (George Blagden) back into her arms.
Though there have been dark and disturbing episodes in the last two seasons of Versailles, this one by far takes the cake. The focus is largely on Madame de Montespan, who turns to Father Etienne (Ned Dennehy) and his evil practices, including the bleeding of children, to secure Louis' affection once more. Apparently devoid of morals or boundaries, she will go as far as necessary, even to the edge of hell, to claw back her lover and the power he brought with him.
In stark contrast, Louis is happier and more fulfilled than audiences have seen him in weeks. Close to reaching his goals and now aware of the enemy within his house, he seems far more in control - happy to bide his time and wait until the moment is right to strike those who would harm him.
However, his new path is not entirely joyous, as he is seemingly punished by God despite his return to the faith. New circumstances arise to complicate his war against Holland and challenge his will and dedication to Christianity. Desperately turning to God, Louis remains on the backfoot, troubled with retreating soldiers and new scandal to blacken his country's name.
Similarly, Philippe (Alexander Vlahos) seems to be in a better situation than in previous episodes, as audiences witness him find joy in his life and family, and purpose in his oversight of Thomas Beaumont (Mark Rendall). Poor Chevalier (Evan Williams), unaware of the ruse that leads Philippe into the arms of Beaumont, must watch from the sidelines heartbroken and seemingly abandoned.
While this is difficult to watch - as the Chevalier, usually so calm and controlled, is utterly heartbroken - it is a fantastic example of Evan Williams' skill as an actor. Offering a compelling performance, Williams makes every viewer, be they fans of the character or not, feel deep sympathy and pain, as they witness the Chevalier’s insecurities and vulnerabilities become impossible to hide. In their wake is left a man broken and alone, unsure of how to continue without the love and loyalty of the man he loves most.
In the palace of Versailles, joy does not last long and unforeseen circumstances soon rob Philippe of his happiness, leaving his marriage in trouble and Louis short of another ally. A heartbroken Princess (Jessica Clark) must find her place once more in the court of a king - now her family’s enemy - and a country filled with brutes like those who destroyed her homeland.
Meanwhile Marchal (Tygh Runyan) continues his investigation into Father Etienne and the poisons which have caused numerous deaths inside the palace. Stumbling across the skeletons of newborn babies, he begins to realise the scale of horror and deceit tied up in these evil doings and determinedly sets to bring the sinners to justice. Unaware of how Madame de Montespan ties into these crimes, audiences will have to wait to see if Marchal’s punishment of these traitors extends to her, or if her previous ties with the king will save her yet again.
As this season of Versailles comes towards its conclusion, the tension and pace of the episodes increase, becoming almost unbearable as audiences finally come so close to the answers they have been missing. The show plays with our frayed nerves and thinning patience as we creep ever closer to these mysterious secrets and answers, toying without us until we can take no more. Always keeping this balance, it succeeds in keeping viewers invested in the show and focused until the very end.
While all the actors are skilled, offering impressive performances each week, George Blagden (Louis) and Evan Williams (The Chevalier) give especially powerful performances this week. Both portray their rage and fear in a compelling and emotive way, garnering the support and sympathy of viewers as they do. Through this, they undo any previous damage caused by their flaws and instead become two of the most likeable and sympathetic characters in the whole show.
Versailles airs on Fridays at 9.30pm on BBC Two.