Versailles, Season 1: Royal Sibling Rivalry, Louis XIV and Philippe d'Orléans

July 11, 2016 by Nicole Oebel

Foto: Alexander Vlahos & George Blagden, Versailles - Copyright: Tibo & Anouchka / Sky
Alexander Vlahos & George Blagden, Versailles
© Tibo & Anouchka / Sky

At first glance "Versailles" is a costume series that dips seductively, as "The Tudors" once did, into the world of love and intrigue at the court of King Louis XIV. The Palace of Versailles itself serves as backdrop, as do other stunning castles of France. There are charming wigs, sumptuous robes, a lot of naked skin, and brute force in the torture chambers of the 17th century. This is what you gather within the first few minutes and it would be easy to pigeonhole "Versailles" and categorize it as caricature, recounting a dusty history book. However, "Versailles" dives much deeper, it is a carefully drawn character drama, historical figures fleshed out in a fictionally shaped context, with relatively new, tremendously expressive actors. The big battles are not the focus here, but rather the effects that politics, wars and conspiracies have on the human beings that were the leading players in European history. And so we arrive at the heart of the series: the turbulent relationship of brothers Louis (George Blagden) and Philippe (Alexander Vlahos).

Foto: Versailles - Copyright: Tibo & Anouchka / Sky
© Tibo & Anouchka / Sky

When the series opens we're informed that Louis XIV was crowned king at the age of four. However, Cardinal Mazarin stepped in as regent. When we meet the King of France, he is 28 years old and slowly starting to take control. The absolute monarchy, however, is still a long way off. Rather, he is a young man who has to grow into his role. He is a man of modern ideas and visions, but behind closed doors he also has fears and seeks support. This support he finds through his skill at manipulation, which he successfully exploits over the course of the ten episodes.

Philippe is his younger brother, homosexual, living it up with a fabulously beautiful Chevalier (Evan Williams) and married to Henriette (Noémie Schmidt), who the king sleeps with. And if this wasn't already a whole treasure trove of potential conflicts, the brothers are also as different as night and day: Louis, guarded, cautious and majestic, aware of his impact on his subjects at all times; and Philippe, spirited and feisty, who wears his heart on his sleeve, loves wearing women's clothes and nurtures his fondest dreams of going to war.

If you met the brothers of Versailles in "The Man in the Iron Mask" (Leonardo DiCaprio in a dual role, 1998) then "Versailles" holds a true surprise! Louis and Philippe do not hate each other, on the contrary, they are connected by this unique kind of brotherly love achieved only by having stood together against the rest of the world through childhood and adolescence. Two king's sons, one brought up to be king, the other dressed in women's clothes to be "lower". Two brothers who hold dear the same memories, who - without each other - would be almost entirely alone, both in their own way in love with their childhood friend Henriette, but one born to take dominion over the other.

"Versailles" doesn't hold back on explosive confrontations between these brothers, who both envy what the other has. And with the same force that Philippe uses to fight for his brother's trust while Louis desperately holds on to his emotional barricade, this dazzling pair of brothers invade the heart of the viewer. A brother relationship that is unparalleled in its raw portrayal of deep emotions. And in George Blagden and Alexander Vlahos the series has found two actors, whose rousing performance from pain to superiority, from disappointment to pride in Season 1 seems to only have scratched the surface of their acting range.

Related: Exclusive Interviews with "Versailles" stars Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Evan Williams and Stuart Bowman