Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Versailles (Season 2, 2017)

as Louis XIV
Louis XIV at the theater with Madame de Montespan (Anna Brewster)
Jessica Clark as Liselotte

Catherine Walker as Madame de Maintenon

as Sophie de Clermont (Duchesse de Cassel)

 Versailles (Season 2) is now on Netflix. As entertaining as was Versailles (Season 1), Season 2 is better, with more depth, character transformation, and spirituality. As in Season 1, some of the more seemingly far-fetched aspects of the series are the ones which are historically true. Louis XIV goes through a dramatic religious conversion and breaks up with his mistress, Madame de Montespan, who takes to consulting a sorceress and a warlock in order to get him back, as true to history. Louis becomes friends with the devout Madame de Maintenon, with whom he begins to forge the most profound relationship of his life. Filmed in the palaces and gardens of the Sun-King, there is an emphasis on historical authenticity, except as in Season 1 everyone is shown going to Holy Communion standing in a line when in those days they knelt at the altar railing.

According to The Masculine Epic:
Last year, we saw the airing of a new historical drama, Versailles, set in the court of Louis XIV. The first season centered on Louis’ establishing Versailles as the new center of power in France, getting the nobles to come there, and trapping them in the gilded cage. There came of course, a ton of intrigue with this move, but the first season stalled at times. Sometimes it felt like there was a lack of direction, even though the acting and staging was all excellent. Still, it lacked something that would make it truly excellent to a general audience, rather than just people interested in the period.

That wasn’t the case at all this year, as Versailles season 2 fired on all cylinders for all 10 of its episodes. The progression of the season was direct and focused, dealing with the infamous Affair of the Poisons in the 1670s. In Versailles, we are shown a palace that, despite its beautiful facade, is rotting from within. In the first episode, Louis’ minister of justice is poisoned, and things go downhill from there.

The poisonings continue throughout the season and Louis grows increasingly distressed as his beloved Versailles turns more and more into a hell, as he and his people seem to be powerless to stop them. The Affair of the Poisons is far from his only problem, however, as the Franco-Dutch War is raging in the Low Countries. Things look to be going well at first, and the king wishes to take part in the proceedings, partly to establish his presence and increase his reputation, but partly also to escape the gloom that has descended on Versailles.

His trip northward wouldn’t be the reprieve he was hoping for. Reliant on England’s fleet for assistance, that piece of the puzzle went out the window, as the Dutch fleet sent it packing. Things got even worse from there, because as if Versailles couldn’t be bad enough with all the poisons in it, there was a Dutch spy in its midst, who was none other than Louis’ official historian. As such, William of Orange (the future William III of England) knew the French strategies before the armies met, and great a leader as Louis XIV was, he was no general. So the mid-point of Versailles‘ second season shows the great king defeated both at home and abroad. His armies were losing ground and he was losing control of his court. The Sun King had descended below the horizon, into katabasis.

The second season of Versailles was all about descent and redemption for Louis. The imagery of Christ throughout the season, particularly its closing episodes, was well-placed, not only for the Biblical parallel, but because Louis grew more religious as his reign went on. His increasing religious devotion would wind up being the key to solving the crisis and saving his hold on power in Versailles season 2, as at the low point, after suffering a defeat at the hands of William of Orange, the two rulers met, and for once, Louis was dealing with an equal in rank. He at first didn’t seem to acquit himself well. William revealed that he knew everything that was going on at Versailles, from the poisonings to his personal activities, including his relationship with his mistress, the Marquise de Montespan. Taunting Louis with how much power she had over him, he declared that she was the one he should be negotiating with, not him. This caused him much distress. (Read more.)
Welsh actor Alexander Vlahos reprises his role of Monsieur, the King's brother Philippe d'Orléans, with equal doses of nuance and panache. Philippe is unhappy with himself; his sexual proclivities are increasingly of the obsessive-compulsive nature, and his golden-haired lover the Chevalier de Lorraine is dragging him into debt, drunkenness and depression, with one orgy after another. Frustrated in his desire for military glory, Philippe is told he must marry again, and the Queen and Madame de Montespan unite to choose a fitting candidate. Philippe's new wife Liselotte, the Princess Palatine (starring Jessica Clark), tries to befriend him and build his confidence. In a scene of comic genius, Philippe is asked by the Queen to pretend to be the King while Louis is away at war, in order to make a vital trade agreement with an Indian sultan. Philippe proves to be a clever negotiator, as Liselotte beams with pride. The frank and high-spirited Liselotte is a delightful addition to the cast as she was to the French court in real life. She became Marie-Antoinette's great grandmother.

By the end of the season it is clear that the weak-willed women are those who have multiple affairs and seek the council of the tarot sorceress, while the women of strong character, like the Queen and Madame de Maintenon, find consolation in their faith. In reality, they found solace in caring for the children in their lives as well. The debauchery of the court is shown to be not only soul-eroding but dangerous, especially when a young girl is accidentally killed in a drug-fueled party. Yes, drugs were rife at Versailles, drugs and poisons, provided by the tarot sorceress and, in the series, encouraged by Madame de Montespan, who in one of the final scenes repents and goes to confession. It is one of many dramatic church scenes. It is also interesting that the one character who calls for revolution is inextricably linked with murder and the diabolic. As Louis, his wife and family emerge from successive tragedies it is clear that virtue, the Church, and marriage have triumphed at Versailles, at least for the time being. That the struggle for the King's soul should be the theme of a television series is a modern miracle in itself.

Louis and his brother Philippe ()

The Queen (Elisa Lasowski) and Liselotte
George Webster as William of Orange



May said...

Hi,Elena. I watched this after seeing you recommend it, and I agree, it is surprisingly good.

elena maria vidal said...

I am so glad that you enjoyed it, May. It's definitely not a family show, but worth seeing for history buffs.