If you desire a lavishly filmed period drama that is serious about both passion and politics, then journey to France to binge-watch “Versailles.” Featuring what is surely the most magnificent collection of hair-dos ever assembled in a television series, “Versailles” offers a sumptuous and thrilling look at the history of Louis XIV, the Sun King.
Year it began: 2015
Where it can be seen: Netflix
Who’s in it: George Blagden, Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Elisa Lasowski, Amira Casar, Noémie Schmidt, Evan Williams, Anna Brewster, Sarah Winter, Lizzie Brocheré, Madison Jaizani, Pip Torrens.
Typical episode length: 52 minutes
Number of episodes to date: 20
Brief plot description: In order to make all French nobles recognize his supremacy, King Louis XIV moves his royal court from Paris to his hunting lodge Versailles, which he transforms into an artistic and cultural wonder. Louis skillfully manages state politics and his unruly court, aided by a few trusted advisers, including his loyal but conflicted brother, Philippe.
Why it’s worth watching: “Versailles” turns a crucial period in French history into a wonderfully splashy and melodramatic spectacle. An English-language series produced in France and Canada, “Versailles” uses lavish sets, gorgeous costumes and a vibrant cast to portray the splendor and sophistication of Louis XIV’s court. The breathtaking opening titles signal that Versailles itself is central to the show: we marvel as a celestial palace is built in a forest, adorned with sublime gardens, stunning statues and flowing fountains. Focusing on both state and bedroom politics, “Versailles” succeeds in its soap-operatic vision of French high society.
Blagden is splendid as the absolutist king Louis XIV. With magnetic intensity, Blagden projects the calculated coolness of an ambitious king who passionately and intelligently builds a new social order. Vlahos is wonderful as Philippe, the Duke of Orléans, an eminently charming man who openly pursues both same-sex desire and military glory, while displaying both loyalty to—and resentment of—his royal brother. Other standout performances include Runyan’s flashily intense Fabien Marchal, who handily enforces royal justice; Schmidt’s compelling turn as Henrietta of England, who is charmingly torn between being Louis’s lover and Philippe’s token wife; Bowman’s ever-present and grimly wise valet, Alexandre Bontemps; and Williams’s delightfully flamboyant Philippe, the Chevalier de Lorraine. Lasowski offers an especially exquisite performance as the melancholy Queen Marie-Thérèse, who remains stylish and sympathetic while suffering her husband’s many infidelities.