Behind the scenes of the BBC’s swashbuckling new series The Musketeers

It is one of the best-known stories of all time – a tale of action, adventure and friendship. Now, 170 years on, the characters created by Alexandre Dumas in The Three Musketeers have inspired a new BBC drama starring Peter Capaldi and Tom Burke.

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Set on the streets of 17th-century Paris, The Musketeers follows friends Athos, Aramis and Porthos as they strive for social justice.

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The 10-part BBC One drama, due to air on Sunday, promises to offer a fresh and contemporary take on the 1844 novel, and to tell a new story.

We went behind the scenes with creator Adrian Hodges, to learn more about The Musketeers, and to find out why Dumas’s story continues to fascinate.

Q: What inspired you to create the show?

A: I have always loved that genre of period, ‘swashbuckling’ heroes. I felt we had not had anything like that on television for a long time.

That swashbuckling theme appears in other genres, such as crime, but it’s not like when I was a kid and you had Errol Flynn and Robin Hood. The Musketeers is a really modern take on the adventure genre.

Q: How true is the show to the original book, The Three Musketeers, written by Alexandre Dumas?

A: Dumas was a fabulist, and the story is so familiar – there have been so many versions. I wanted to capture the spirit of the book, but tell a new story.

Many of the characters were inspired by the book, but we have gone a bit deeper in terms of their back stories.

For example, Aramis [played by Santiago Cabrera] is known as a ‘great lover’. But what does that actually mean?

In earlier adaptations it has meant that whatever tavern he goes into, women swoon, but I thought it would be interesting to explore the consequences of that – for him, and for the women.

We are taking a modern, psychological approach to the characters.

Q: What can viewers expect from the programme? Is it violent, or a family show?

A: It’s broadcast on Sundays at 9pm, so it’s after the watershed, but it’s also a Sunday. I would say it’s an adult show that doesn’t exclude the family.

We’re not Game of Thrones. Our show is sexual and violent, but done in an acceptable way.

Q: We’ve read that the show includes strong female roles. Could you tell us about that?

A: I thought it was important to have a balanced role for women, in what is a very male-dominated show.
I wanted to look at the back-stories of characters such as Milady, Constance and the Queen. They each represent different kinds of strengths.

Milady [played by Maimie McCoy] is a villain, but I was really interested to explore what made her that way. She starts off appearing irredeemable, but by the end you begin to understand why she does what she does.

Meanwhile Constance [played by Tamla Kari] was married at 15 and is in an unhappy life. She doesn’t envisage her life ever changing.

But then love bursts into her life, and she becomes more and more involved in the musketeers’ adventures.

I won’t say much about the Queen [played by Alexandra Dowling], because I don’t want to give anything away, but she becomes involved with the musketeers in a very interesting way.

They are all women finding their way in what is a misogynistic era.

Q: Where, and for how long, did you film the show?

A: We filmed in the Czech Republic, near Prague, for seven or eight months, so we experienced all the seasons – from -12C to over 40C.

The reason we shot the show there was because the Czech Republic has a variety of locations; it can be adapted and it just works.

You had 50-70 people working on the set at any one time – we were like a small army!

It was the longest series I had ever done, and everyone really enjoyed themselves. It was a lovely set, and the actors who play the musketeers [Tom Burke, Howard Charles and Santiago Cabrera] are really close friends.

It was one of the best times of my life.

Q: The cast includes a number of big names such as Peter Capaldi. Did you have those actors in mind when writing The Musketeers?

A: I never visualise the actor beforehand, because you’ll almost undoubtedly be disappointed by not getting them. But we had a very short short-list once we had finished writing, and we generally got the actors we wanted.

Q: What is it about Alexandre Dumas’s story that continues to fascinate 170 years later?

A: I think the story is fundamentally about a lack of cynicism. It’s about heroism. And it has all the dramatic virtues – romance, humour.

A lot of drama is based on bad people doing bad things, but this genre allows you to celebrate real heroes. It’s cheering for the good guys.

And I’d like to add that while we are a fiction – and no one is pretending otherwise – we respect history wherever we can in the show.

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History is always a good source of stories, and the show is faithful to the history of the period.