Book Adaptations: The Three Musketeers

Screenshot from ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1993) starring (from left) Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Charlie Sheen, and Chris O’Donnell. Copyright goes to Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Pictures.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I recently picked up ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas after not having read it since High School. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t picked it up since considering I liked it so much the first time I read it that I read it again not long after. But now it’s been years since I last read it, even though I liked it so much. Probably because I’ve reread more recent favorites more than this one since then. But waiting so long to reread was definitely a mistake, because I haven’t even read through all of it and I already love it! ‘The Three Musketeers’ is well known for its action, adventure, wicked sense of humor, and (most importantly) camaraderie. The best part of the book is the characters; specifically Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. The want to make these characters come to life has spanned decades and several adaptations of the famous book. Specifically, three adaptations are the most popular and I’ve found to be the most talked about. All of them for very different reasons. So I will go through all three of these adaptations in detail and determine which of these is the best and which of these kind of missed the mark. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

‘The Three Musketeers’ (1993):

I want to first mention that most versions of ‘The Three Musketeers’ take quite a lot of dramatic license. Which I completely understand, because the book is both very old and does go more into detail about things such as the gambling endeavors of the main characters. The stakes in the book are also often not as high as most film adaptations of the story would prefer. But really, the main point of the book is the camaraderie between the main four characters, so a good adaptation of especially the three and also of the camaraderie of all of them is what really makes an adaptation for me. And I have never seen the camaraderie between the group as well portrayed as it is in this adaptation. The sense of humor from the original book is present in spades in this movie, which means that all of the Musketeers participate in the back and forth bantering.

Athos- Most adaptations of ‘The Three Musketeers’ that I’ve seen often forget that Athos took just as much pleasure poking fun at people as his other companions. While Athos was wiser than his companions and less prone to flights of fancy, he was also just as witty and a known gambler. I don’t usually like to see portrayals of Athos where he spends most of his time brooding, because Athos sometimes broods but definitely does not spend most of his time brooding. And while I usually am not the biggest fan of Kiefer Sutherland, this is probably my favorite adaptation of Athos that I’ve ever seen. He’s wise, broods when he needs to, but also has fun with the others. He gives as good as he gets and he usually does it while laughing at something he or one of his companions said. Athos comes off as the leader he is without the creatives having him come across as humorless and brooding. This Athos is very warm and I love that about him!

Porthos- This is definitely a great adaptation of Porthos and the funniest that I’ve seen. Porthos in the book takes great joy in pretty much everything except for losing. And the way Porthos absolutely beams through every fight and every obstacle is a hilarious portrayal. Porthos in the books is described as being a dandy, meaning that he’s very cautious of the way he dresses and probably a little vain. Porthos’s vanity is rarely explored in adaptations, and it barely is here. But they do keep his vanity in the way he wants to look impressive to other people. But he’s mostly concerned with hilariously roasting people and faultlessly having everyone else’s backs. I laugh nearly every time he opens his mouth.

Aramis- Charlie Sheen is another person I am usually not the biggest fan of. Somehow, he makes Aramis extremely likable. Which is a miracle considering that I usually find his characters just as unlikeable as he is. Aramis is hilarious and a womanizer, but the pious nature of him is kept in tact while also making the former personality traits clear. Aramis is also more noble in this version than I had seen him before. He is always one of the first to be understanding towards someone else or lay down his life for the cause. I have always had a difficult time choosing which of the Musketeers is my favorite, but when it comes down to it I usually choose Aramis and this is no different. Aramis is charming, but to a likable degree, not just in flirtatiousness.

D’Artagnan- D’Artagnan is usually my least favorite of the four main characters, and this is no different. But I can’t say that it is all that different from the book. D’Artangnan is young, proud, and lacks wisdom. Though this version of D’Artagnan brings it to a bit of a new level. In the book, the other three eventually view him as an equal. This version of D’Artagnan never quite gets to that point. Though I’m not the biggest fan of him, he’s not all that different from his origins. Maybe just a little worse off.

My main gripes with this one is probably the lack of other Musketeers and the treatment of female characters. The Musketeers have been completely disbanded, and I like to see the camaraderie between the entire garrison. But I understand wanting to only focus on the four. The original material was also not very kind to women, but I don’t think that means that a newer adaptation can’t try to make this better. In fact, I think a newer adaptation should try to solve that problem. All that aside, this is a comfort movie for me and my favorite adaptation of the classic novel.

‘The Three Musketeers’ (2011):

This version of the story is by far the most ridiculous I have ever seen. Have you ever wanted to see an overly fantasized version of this story with flying ships and odd steampunk aspects? No? Neither did I. Especially because it doesn’t actually commit to it, it just kind of shoehorns it in. And the villain off this story is, oddly, Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham. Even though the Duke is usually a pretty small character and using him doesn’t tackle the original theme of fighting corruption within France that is usually prevalent throughout every other version. The camaraderie is also often not focused on in favor of action and other drama. Which pretty well ruins the entire point of the characters, but I’ll go through them anyways.

Athos- I can’t say that this adaptation focuses much on any character. Especially if they aren’t D’Artagnan. Athos in this version is pretty broody until he finally accepts D’Artagnan at the very end, which is an odd way to show brotherhood. While I absolutely love Matthew Macfayden, this one isn’t very kind to the lighthearted side of Athos that I love so much. I’m not a huge fan of how much this character obsesses over his past and neglects his current friends.

Porthos- Hilarious as usual, but probably one of the least focused on. He’s a giant and a charmer, but nothing much more than that. At least he comes with some of the banter that I missed.

Aramis- The nobility and the humor still comes across. At least Porthos and Aramis feel like friends here. But I wanted to see so much more of my favorite Musketeer. And I feel like I got him the least of any of the Musketeers

D’Artagnan- This D’Artagnan is actually a charming one. His pride stays in tact while also being likable. But my favorite part of this character is usually how his relationship with the other Musketeers develops. This pits D’Artagnan as the only main character, and his character doesn’t learn if he doesn’t have others to learn from.

There’s not a lot of nice things I can say about this adaptation. I liked the actors, the cast was amazing, but it seems to me like they were barely used. And, once again, all female characters are pushed to the side. Not to mention the absolute absurdity of almost every plot point. This movie is unfaithful to the original in almost every aspect and it doesn’t really pay off.

‘The Musketeers’ (2014-2016):

This was a series that aired on the BBC for three seasons and featured an amazing cast including Santiago Cabrera as Aramis. I am extremely biased here because I love ‘Merlin’ so much. This version of the story bases it’s entire existence on the fact that the four main characters are so lively and so important that they can be put into any storyline and they work. While this is not a perfect adaptation, it does try and treat its characters with love. It sometimes succeeds, especially in the first season of the show. And it certainly is packed with enough action and sword fighting to keep anyone entertained. This also has a different take on each of the Musketeers, some of which really work and some of which don’t. But in a way, this is also one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve seen to the book. Especially with it keeping the entire garrison of Musketeers including the Captain.

Athos- He is my least favorite character of the four main. He spends most of his time brooding until the final season where he seems to pick up some wisdom somewhere. But the brooding is his only character trait for far too long. Usually it is difficult for me to choose between the Musketeers, but the nobility of Athos is so barely there that sometimes I couldn’t even see the origins of the character. I just wish he also had a lighthearted side to him, because this version of Athos doesn’t seem to. I don’t hate him, but this version of Athos needed far more humor and wisdom. I like him much better once they put Sylvie into his life.

Porthos- I actually very much like what they did with Porthos in the way of honoring Alexandre Dumas. Many people don’t know that Alexandre Dumas was of mixed race, and his mother was a slave. Dumas was very against slavery because of it and often did not try to hide who he was. Porthos was cast to be the same and is given several storylines against slavery, which is something I was very happy to see within the story itself. His brotherhood with Aramis and eventually D’Artagnan is adorable and this adaptation of Porthos is just downright huggable.

Aramis- Can you get any better than Santiago Cabrera as Aramis? Probably not. This version of Aramis does not start out as a man of God, but his faith is built as the seasons go on. Which actually made for a very interesting depiction. Seeing his faith grow gives Aramis so much time to become the noble man we all expect, and I loved that development. I also found it interesting that they paired him off with the Queen. In the book Aramis’s mistress is actually the banished best friend of the Queen, so I didn’t find this as much of a stretch. But his learning to take on responsibility after that as well as his overwhelming charm makes him a character you can’t tear your eyes away from. Aramis was my favorite in this series.

D’Artagnan- Never before this have I seen D’Artagnan be the voice of reason. Ever. But I kind of like it. As I’ve said, D’Artagnan has never been one of my favorite characters, but he is here. He is still proud and runs headfirst into a fight, but he also knows when to take a step back and be more tactical. When someone is over-emotional it’s actually him rather than Athos that is usually the voice of reason. And his immense respect for every character in the show despite their status sets him apart. I wish I could see more depictions of this character this likable, but preferably not as much like what Athos should have been.

This show is by far the best I’ve seen for female characters. The Queen often takes care of herself, Constance becomes a badass in every fight, and eventually they also bring along Sylvie. A Black woman who becomes a strong point in the show as well. I’ve been waiting for an adaptation to portray women so well and I’m glad one finally did. They even talk about the unfairness of the way women were treated at the time. Though this show doesn’t go off of much of the original plot, it feels more like a spinoff using the characters. And I can get behind that. Especially because of the camaraderie between Porthos, Aramis, D’Artagnan and sometimes Athos. But the show could be better at establishing them as a group and the second season in particular is not good.

If you haven’t picked up ‘The Three Musketeers’ in a while, I would highly recommend it. It’s hilarious. And maybe check out one of the adaptations I mentioned! Some of them are really good and worth watching! I always love a good fantasy story with plenty of action for escapism and this is exactly that. I hope some of these suggestions have proven useful!

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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