Versailles: The Dream of a King (France 2 version)
This film ran on the BBC a few days ago, and is available for streaming on the France 2 site (from France only, 1.99 euros.) You can also watch it from anywhere, and for free, at Dailymotion. The DVD is sold at Amazon.fr under the original title Versailles, le reve d’un roi (careful with the format if you live outside Europe, though.)
Last night I watched the French version and found it worthwhile. It does not transcend the limitations of the docudrama genre, but is obviously based on solid research. The history of Louis XIV’s conception of Versailles, with its many connections to his love life, is well explained, without any unseemly sentimentalization. The film also does a good job of bringing up the terrible death toll of the construction (probably in the tens of thousands altogether) and the foreign wars that marked the reign.
Special attention is paid to the accuracy of the costumes, a nice change from the costume drama genre in general. Particularly striking is the evolution of male fashions during the reign of Louis XIV. Even Samuel Theis, the lead actor, resembles, in less athletic, the young Sun King. He succeeds in conveying the complexity of the character. This is a secondary topic, the main focus being of course the palace itself, but very well done.
Any peeves? Yes, certainly. The film does not give a visual idea of the throngs of courtiers and servants that walked daily through the palace, though the numbers were mentioned in the commentary. This may have to do with budget issues. It is easier and cheaper to speak of thousands of courtiers than to show them…
The film also fails to emphasize the fact that, even after the completion of Versailles, the French Court remained very nomadic, moving, according to schedule or at the King’s whim, between various royal palaces. I also wished for more about the Grand Trianon, built on the grounds of Versailles as a retreat for Louis XIV and his second wife, Madame de Maintenon, in the latter part of the reign.
But these are minor foibles. This Versailles remains an excellent introduction to the history of the palace, and the man who dreamt it.
See also my review of the BBC version.