In 1966, BBC unveiled The Three Musketeers, a television mini-series shown in 10 black & white episodes, each about 24 minutes long. This full-screen dvd release is certainly worth a look for all swashbuckler fans and, specifically, for readers of Alexandre Dumas. I'm not sure how many film adaptations there are out there about the Musketeers. Off the cuff, the versions I remember starred Douglas Fairbanks, Don Ameche (a musical!), Gene Kelly, Michael York (excellent!), and Charlie Sheen. There was even a crappy version a few years ago wherein D'Artagnan's fighting style combined elements of gymnastics and martial arts!
This BBC mini-series sticks pretty closely to Dumas's classic tale of love, honor, and swordplay. In ten chapters, we get to witness the high points of the book: our young Gascon, D'Artagnan, on his way to meet M. Treville in hopes of becoming a Musketeer, initially ruffling the feathers of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and consequently scheduling dueling appointments with them on three successive hours; D'Artagnan meeting and falling in love with Constance, the lovely but married seamstress and confidante of the Queen, who, unwisely but very Frenchlike, engages in secret liaisons with the Duke of Buckingham; D'Artagnan's heroic mission for his queen and his friends' noble sacrifices along the way so that D'Artagnan's mission is successful. And so on...
The cast is comprised of outstanding British actors. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are respectively and vigorously played by Jeremy Young, Brian Blessed, and Gary Watson, who are all very, very good and passionate in their roles - in particular, Jeremy Young, whose tortured character has always stood out in my eyes. Unfortunately, Constance remains a tepid character, much like in the book. The villains are done a good turn by the wickedly good performances of Mary Peach, as the cunning and vindictive Milady de Winter, and of Richard Pasco, who plays Cardinal Richelieu with icy reserve and Machiavellian menace.
But, most of all, we get to experience a D'Artagnan who is disarmingly portrayed by Jeremy Brett. D'Artagnan, in Brett's hands, is earnest, noble, spiritedly idealistic, and fiercely brave. This is a very fine performance by Mr. Brett, who displays the intensity and class arrogance he would later hone to perfection as Sherlock Holmes. But, back in 1966, he was young enough (33 years old then) that he was able to bring zest and youthful energy into his iconic role. When his father advises him to "never fear quarrels, but seek adventures" and to "fight on all occasions," we know Brett is up to the challenge.
Showcasing ferocious, energetic sword fights, ensemble acting done with panache and conviction, and a sincere commitment to do right by Dumas's greatest work, BBC's The Three Musketeers is an honest and true adaptation. With a budget commensurate to television, the production is modest but, nevertheless, admirable. The costumes, the settings, the texturing of the show are all exceedingly done well. No, it doesn't have the tongue in cheek flavor of the 1974 Richard Lester version or the Brat Pack casting of the 1993 offering. What it has, instead, is unassuming charm and loyalty to the spirit of Alexandre Dumas. Of all the Musketeer films I've seen, this one most closely resembles, believe it or not, the 1948 Gene Kelly film in its earnestness.
This series comes in 2 discs, with 5 episodes per disc. Here's the bad news: there are no special features included here. No behind the scenes featurette, no episode commentaries...nothing, nada, zipzoid. Which is why I'm rating the dvd as a four-and-a-half starrer, instead of the full five marks.
A year later, in 1967, BBC treated its audience to a follow up 16-episode serial, The Further Adventures of the Three Musketeers, which showcased Joss Ackland as D'Artagnan. Hopefully, there's a dvd about it in the near future, and with special features.
Hope this helped.