Friday, August 5, 2016

'Uproar' over Versailles TV series

French actress Lizzie Brocheré gets to work on King Louis minutes into spisode one of Versailles.  Britain scandalised

Agent Triple P has been enjoying the sumptuous production of TV drama Versailles on BBC2 but even before it aired the puritan press were up in arms about the new French made (ooh, er, missus) series.  "The most graphic sex scenes ever to be shown on British TV" (they weren't) said the scandalised Daily Mail. They described the series as among ‘the filthiest TV ever’.  This of course, was before they had even seen it.

Noémie Schmidt takes a dip in the lake

They wound up other puritans for their piece. Sam Burnett, of Mediawatch UK, said: 'Dressing up pornography and violence in a cravat and tights doesn't make it cultural.'

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said: "There are channels where, if you wish to view this sort of material, you would have to pay for it. BBC viewers don’t have a choice. They have to pay for it whether they approve or not...Is this an example of the BBC dumbing down and seeking more sensationalised programming? That’s an arms race to the bottom – quite literally in this case."  Oh, it hadn't been shown when he said this either.  Shouldn't he have been doing something useful like running the country rather than worrying about what people watch on TV?

Once the first episode had been shown the Daily Mail carefully published a screen shot of every sex scene (with all the 'naughty. bits blacked out) and gave the timing of every racy scene.  "First episode sees no less than seven blush-inducing sex scenes" they gasped.   They reported that viewers were so shocked they switched off in droves (actually, its been doing quite well in the ratings).

The French producers were baffled by the UK reaction.  There had been some complaints in France about the £24 million budget show but they centred around some historical inaccuracies (every French person studies Louis XIV at school in the same way that we study Henry VIII and his six wives) and, above all, the fact that the show (a French/Canadian/UK co-production) had been filmed in English, not French (sensibly, it has been sold to 135 countries).

Producer Claude Chelli said he was surprised that British viewers were so shocked by the nudity and sex scenes because French audiences had not batted an eyelid.  He said the French were not shocked by the content when the first series aired last year, adding: “We weren’t prepared for the reaction of the UK viewers.” 

 The DVD boxed set of the first series carries a tous publics rating in France.  That is a 'U' certificate, the same as a Disney cartoon. 50 Shades of Grey had a 12 certificate in France because the French realise that sex isn't disgusting, shameful or something to be hidden from youngsters. 

We suspect that a lot of the problems in the first episode came because of a homosexual sex scene and that is what really got people up in arms but they felt that they couldn't explicitly object to that as saying negative things about homosexuals is illegal in Britain.  Men kissing is always going to worry the Daily Mail, however, although they can't admit it.

There were more sex scenes than in the rest of the series in episode one but they were very short.  Sex was a key component to holding power in the French court as was shown in the series when the young Louis is presented with  naked, older nursemaid to teach him about the importance of sex for the king.

In one scene a mother grabs her sixteen year old daughter's naked pussy amd tells her in no uncertain terms that if she wants to get on at court and keep the family name in the clear she needs to employ that part of her anatomy on the king.

Initially set in 1667, Versailles is about Louis XIV (the Sun King) extending his father's small (comparatively) hunting lodge outside Paris into a palace big enough to hold his court, isolating them from Paris so he can keep an eye on his perfidious nobles.  Louis did indeed like his women (very, very much) but we are not sure about the way he accepts his brother's homosexual affairs in the series.  Louis, after all, essentially,  banished his much appreciated court composer, Lully (it was nice to see him being mentioned in one episode) solely  because of his homosexual carrying on.

There are some sex scenes but certainly not as many as the Daily Mail was worried about (the first episode was unusual on that front - not surprisingly, perhaps) and they tend to be short.  Some episodes don't have any sexual content at all.

However, when they do have a sex scene they tend to go for it.  Anna Brewster, playing the king's (principal) mistress, Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, gave a very enthusiatic, hip grinding, thigh flexing performance in a scene which began spectacularly framed from above before the camera dropped down to observe the couple from the side.

One of the nice things about the series, but also something of a challenge, is that the roles are almost entirely played by a largely unknown, young international cast.   As one of the actors pointed out, the average age of the cast of Downton Abbey was forty.

This does present one key problem.  It is quite difficult, especially early on in the series, to work out who was supposed to be who amongst  a cast of men all wearing long dark wigs and similarly coiffed women.

The look of the series is helped enormously by the fact that much of it was actually shot at the real palace of Versailles, as well as many other period French chateaux.  The costumes are wonderful and even the military uniforms are accurate.  One thing we can't stand, however, is the modern music which is horribly grating.  We didn't expect wall to wall Lully (there is some period music) but Michael Nyman showed in The Draughtsman's Contract what you could do with some post modern baroque.

The second series finished filming last month but the BBC haven't confirmed yet that they will be taking it.  Despite calling it "a delicious treat" before it was shown, they seem to have been taken aback by the negative press stirred up by the puritans.  Also it was never realistically going to be a rival to Downton Abbey as some suggested.  Let's hope we have more bodice dropping adventures in the future as in series two the place courtesans go on strike!

PS: At the end of the last episode the BBC announced that it would be back next year!


  1. I was intrigued as to how many complaints had been received by Ofcom. On their website they only release weekly figures for those programmes that get more than 10 complaints in a week. In the period between 31/5/16 and 1/8/16 Versailles did not figure once. Considering that Good Morning Britain received at least 175 complaints in that period I don't think the BBC is quaking in its boots about the puritan backlash.

    1. I have a friend who is a BBC producer and they are very conscious of the government's new role under the Charter renewal in providing "guidance" to OFCOM (as regulator) for content requirements. Expect more sexual censorship in Britain under Theresa May....

    2. Compared to the good old days of the 1970s, we are starved of television drama with interesting sexual content. I think back to my teens when Manhunt (the beautiful Cyd Hayman), Country Matters esp Breeze Anstey (the delicious Morag Hood), The Glittering Prizes (the goddess that was Barbara Kellerman) and numerouns episodes of Play for Today graced our screens. If I remember rightly, BBC2 also ran a French Cinema series on a Friday or Saturday night. We were in heaven in comparison to today's meagre fare. We could do with an entire tv channel devoted this edgier television drama rather than many of the sophorific Drama tv channels we have today.
      I wholeheatedly agree with you that there is certainly a new puritanism today; I despair when I read intelligent fashion commentators like Laura Craik in the Evening Standard and Jess Cartner-Morley in the Guardian attacking the burkini ban and announcing that the bikini is old fashioned and it is in it's death throws. See below;

      The ultimate objective of all this politiking is to make women invisible. Triple P - I enjoy your output so much because it celebrates woman in all her beauty. Keep up the good work!

      Agent M.