M, 114 minutes

4 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

Alexandre Dumas’ novel has been told and retold for screen many times since the days of silent cinema, with at least one new adaptation each decade, tweaked for the times. This flamboyant new version directed by Martin Bourboulon wrests it back into the original French-language, the first in a long time.

A Part III is expected after Milady. If all the dash and derring-do of this story set among the special musket-armed cavalry unit dedicated to the protection of a French king connects with filmgoers, it will make a final chapter a viable prospect.

It takes place in the year that the French Protestant rebellion was finally suppressed with the siege of La Rochelle. Saint Malo in Brittany stands in magnificently for the old port city on the west coast where the long-running insurrection by scruffy-looking Huguenots actually took place in 1627.

France is as photogenic as ever, full of fine castles that make ideal shooting locations

While I don’t usually mention production budgets, it’s interesting that Parts I and II, made back-to-back, each cost the coproducing partners of France, Germany, Belgium and Spain around AUD 59 million. The relatively modest amount for a mainstream blockbuster, confirming that France is cinematic and full of fine castles that make for ideal shooting locations.

The film will attract anyone who may have been missing the swashbuckling and sweeping historical epic on the big screen, while making do with postmodern actioner of sci-fi. The adjustments to the original narrative and the dialogue in this new French movie are likely to sit well with contemporary audiences who are up for some fun. Screenwriters Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patelliere have given it an engaging, contemporary spirit.

Familiar faces like Vincent Cassel, Francois Civil, Romain Duris, and Louis Garrel are among the lineup, while another French star, Eva Green, more than makes up for the gender imbalance, and any complaint this historical epic may attract about being too much of the boys’ own story. In a way it is, but it isn’t. Apart from Milady, the French queen, Anne of Austria, and Constance Bonacieux, a royal handmaiden, (Vicky Krieps and Lyna Khoudri, respectively) are both intriguing female characters with depth.

Milady is a force to be reckoned with, and Eva Green is great in the role

Part II picks up the action with D’Artagnan trying to escape captivity. He is thrown into league briefly with Milady de Winter (Green), a spy for evil Cardinal Richelieu who holds great sway in the kingdom of King Louis XIII (Louis Garrel). Milady is a force to be reckoned with, who dupes everyone. In private moments when she reveals her short hair under a cloth cap, or when she stands her ground and fights to the death, her character has a fearful, disturbing impact. Eva Green is great in the role.

As King Louis XIII who ushered in the moment in French history that saw his son become the Sun King, Louis Garrel injects a humorous tone. Whether popping a sweetmeat into his mouth as surrounding courtiers wait for his definitive royal opinion, or mocking his militaristic younger brother, Garrel’s character fills the screen whenever he appears. It’s wonderfully bizarre, a right royal subversion of his majesty in this high-stakes actioner.

When Dumas was writing his Three Musketeers in their original serialised version in the 1840s, the revolution in which a French king and queen had lost their heads was not long past and civil unrest continued with the country still divided between republicans and monarchists. The fate of the monarchy was yet to take a more definitive turn.

With a solid backstory that gives the chivalric musketeers’ struggle some weight, Milady manages to weave that essential element, humour, into the flow. Handheld camerawork takes us right into the action, emphasising danger and confusion in the moment of battle.

When Hollywood turned the 19th century classic novel into a feature film over 100 years ago, it was a perfect star vehicle for one of the biggest names of the silent screen, Douglas Fairbanks.  As D’Artagnan, the star could give his character from the sticks in Gascony all the swashbuckling panache that he could muster. No doubt Cassel, Duris and Co were encouraged to do the same but their characters are at the same time flesh and blood, not just romantic figures in feathered hats, riding across fields as the mist rises at dawn.

First published in the Canberra Times on 7 June 2024. Jane’s reviews are also published on Rotten Tomatoes