The Three Musketeers: Milady: plot points are lost in a flurry of action in this propulsive second instalment

The second part of director Martin Bourboulon’s Musketeers diptych delivers intense combat scenes, and an intoxicating turn from action antiheroine Eva Green, but much of it feels like a rushed set up for a new ‘Dumas-verse’.

Eva Green as Milady and François Civil as D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers: Milady (2023)

Alexandre Dumas père’s swashbuckling classic, first published in 1844, has spawned too many films and TV series to itemise here, including versions featuring Mickey Mouse, Dogtanian and Barbie. But even in less fanciful interpretations, a lot of the fun for musketeer aficionados is spotting the ways in which filmmakers try to ‘improve on’ the sprawling but deftly plotted novel. Dumas already played fast and loose with historical fact, but in the second part of director Martin Bourboulon’s diptych, the first relatively straightforward French adaptation since Bernard Borderie’s in 1961, not least of the surprises is that George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, survives the assassination attempt that history records as having been all too successful.

Also missing from Bournoulon’s current version are the musketeers’s servants, great characters in their own right, as well as Buckingham’s real-life assassin, John Felton, whose fictional seduction by Cardinal Richelieu’s spy, Milady de Winter, provided one of the highlights in the original novel. The scene was sulphurously recreated by Faye Dunaway and the mesmerising Michael Gothard in what is probably cinema’s most faithful rendition to date: Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers, released in two parts in 1973 and 1974 (much to the astonishment of the all-star cast that had signed up for a single film).

Meanwhile, Bourboulon’s Milady (Eva Green) takes an even more hands-on approach to the intrigues of the story, transformed into an action antiheroine who, clad in sexy leather man-drag, gallops around on a white horse, tussles erotically with D’Artagnan with no apparent attempt to hide the incriminating fleur-de-lys branded into her shoulder, holds her own in the swordfights and generally remains ambiguous as to which side she is on, other than her own.

Also nowhere to be seen is fight choreography like that of the legendary William Hobbs, who in Lester’s version combined elegance with slapstick to give us, in the final showdown between D’Artagnan and Rochefort, one of cinema’s great fencing duels. Bournoulon, just as in the first part of his diptych, The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan, has no truck with this nonsense, preferring a shaky handheld approach to immerse us in an impressionistic flurry of action where it’s not always clear who’s fighting whom, though it certainly plunges us headfirst into the confusion of combat, reportedly the director’s intention.

As in The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan, the sometimes-hard-to-follow plot builds up to a court case in which traitors are exposed and musketeers let off the hook. Bournoulon’s big set-piece, the Siege of La Rochelle, lacks the tactical clarity – as well as the massive budget–- of the Siege of Toulon as depicted in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, but there’s no shortage of picturesque location work, with plenty of galloping through the French countryside or along beaches. After La Rochelle, everyone nips across La Manche to Buckingham’s estate in England, conveniently situated adjacent to the white cliffs of Dover, for a series of developments that are likely to surprise anyone familiar with the novel or previous film versions.

Eva Green as Milady in The Three Musketeers: Milady (2023)

The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan ended on a cliffhanger as D’Artagnan’s paramour was kidnapped, but Lyna Khoudri as Constance, one of the first film’s most delightful characters, gets little do in Milady other than function as a mostly absent plot device. Porthos (Pio Marmaï) and Aramis (Romain Duris) are relegated to a comic subplot, leaving all the dramatic brooding to Vincent Cassel (an actor twice the age of his character in the novel) as Athos, while François Civil (probably best known to British viewers as Hippolyte in the TV show Call My Agent) proves a dashing enough action hero. Ultimately, the beats of the story all seem a bit rushed compared to the first part, ending on yet another cliffhanger that leaves a number of crucial plot points unresolved.

Does this mean that new films of Dumas’s sequels to The Three Musketeers are in the offing? Will we see sparkling new adaptations of Twenty Years After and The Man in the Iron Mask? Don’t count on it. The clue in Milady is the curiously formal but apparently pointless introduction of a dapper non-Dumas character called Hannibal (Ralph Amoussou) at La Rochelle. The mystery is partially explained by a report in Variety indicating that The Three Musketeers’s production team is planning at least two spin-off television series based on the ‘franchise’: Black Musketeer and Milady Origins. So there we have it; Alexandre Dumas as Intellectual Property. Brace yourself for the Dumas-verse. The author himself would almost certainly have approved, so long as he received a cut of the proceeds.

 ► The Three Musketeers: Milady is in UK cinemas now.