Read all about my review of Episode 1 here.
So now we have the worst possible outcome for King Louis – his Queen not only slept with another man, but the resulting child is black. Let that sink in….. The King of France, the man who fancies himself the most powerful in all of Europe. Cuckolded by his seemingly pious wife…. with a slave? The camera pans to Nabo, her midget manservant, before the child is quickly spirited away by Bontemps and the court is told it was stillborn and a funeral planned. However, a maid is witness to the very-alive child and Marchal is witness to her witnessing it…. immediately we know the maid is in deep shit.
This story thread is interesting, because the little-known gossip at the time was the queen did actually give birth to either a deformed or miscoloured child, borne from a ‘corrupted womb’, depending on who you listen to (remember we are talking 17th century France where the mere look or touch from a tainted source was the cause for all manner of deformities). This child was said to have been Louise Marie-Thérèse aka The Black Nun of Moret.
Louis confronts his wife – such furious anger yet delivered in such tightly measured speech. He is not only personally insulted as a husband, but also as a monarch and the ruler of France. If his enemies knew of this, they would think France “weak, debase, a laughing stock.” Her infidelity wasn’t the act of a wife or queen, it was “an act of sedition.” The fate of the baby will not be a positive one.
Cut to the Chevalier de Lorraine (yay!) and a little scene with his cousin, Madame de Clermont and Sophie. (I do so love watching Evan Williams as the Chevalier command the screen…. he has such a presence. When I think of the word ‘dandy’, this man comes to mind). He has managed to wrangle an invite for them to view dresses and jewels, a kind of 17th Century ‘shop at home’ party of sorts. A man of great influence.
And Louis visits his gardener. They talk innocently of orange trees and disease and burning the sick trees to ensure a healthy orchard, plus the advantage of knowing from which stock they hail, a kind of horticultural bloodline. “To know the seed is to know the root. To know the root is to know the tree and the fruit that follows thereafter. So I burn the sick to preserve the pure,” says Jacque. The subtext is, of course, all about Louis’ court and his nobles.
The way the writers show Louis’ doubt and conflict comes across a few ways – obviously in the dialogue and confrontations with those who oppose him. And also via ‘visions’ and dreams – his mother speaks to him, he relives scenes from his childhood. All serve to show Louis is a complex man, so very confident on the outside but with a doubt he knows he needs to overcome in order to become truly great.
Another lovely scene with Monsieur, this time in his salon with his mignons. I love seeing him on screen and it seems the camera loves him, too. Anyway, the maid reveals she has seen the baby and now Philippe knows. A little detail that has long-reaching consequences.
We also are privy to the dynamic between Bontemps and Louis, which touches on a father/son relationship at times, even though Bontemps never oversteps the boundaries as servant. Louis decides to keep the child alive, and Bontemps interrupts as Marchal is about to drown the baby. Just in time. Yet Marchal’s mind is still on protecting his king.
The maid who has seen too much is hanged, and it’s made to look like a suicide. Poor thing.
Another scene with Monsieur, this time with his wife Henriette in church, mourning the ‘death’ of the child. Again, played to such skill by Alex Vlahos. He has all the air and haughtiness of a prince. Every word he utters feels calculated to the nth degree – not in a bad way, merely designed to either wound or show his complete distain for whoever opposes him. I am already hooked on every scene with him, especially with the Chevalier, who expresses his suspicion about the child and asks what’s going on with Monsieur’s brother. “You be careful about what you say and how loudly you say it.” Because we all know asking questions can get you into a whole lot of trouble. The Chevalier’s response? “Your brother thinks you are weak. You have more power than you can realise. Use it.”
And use it he does. Armed with knowledge, he shows Louis his mad warring skillz, outlining a plan of attack against the Spanish (which war this is, I’m not certain. As it appears, it’s a kind of mashup of The War of Devolution – where historical Philippe did actually distinguish himself but soon got bored and eventually took to redecorating his tent instead, then went home when he heard Henriette had a miscarriage, then went back to battle to be awesome at the Siege of Lille). Louis says he’s not ready. UGH. Curse you, brother.
More on the rebellious nobles and aahhhhh! One of Louis’ closest advisers, Louvois, conspires with Montcourt (Anatole Taubman) and the Duke of Cassel is mentioned as an ally. The building of Versailles must be stopped.
More spying stuff, with Marchal doing what he does best – advising Louis about a cypher and secret messages that are being passed about.
And we come to the second best scene of Episode 2 (yes, I am grading them. Don’t judge me). The Chevalier and Philippe attend the salon, with Philippe dressed amazingly as a woman, complete with curls and elegant dress. Insulted by a courtier, there is a massive punch up (“You mock me, you mock my brother, and that makes you a traitor.” So very true), which results in Philippe stabbing and beating the man, until the Chevalier commands him to stop. A perfect example of the influence the Chevalier has over Philippe.
At the same time, Louis visits Henriette for the sexytimes. Henriette: “my husband would love to fight.” Louis: “if I send him to the Spanish Netherlands, he may not return.” Henriette: “A glorious death would not displease him.” UGH. What. A. Witch.
And now we come to what I think is the best scene of the entire episode. Obviously hearing of the altercation, Louis summons Philippe and he storms in, still in his dress, and throws his shoes in fury. When Louis asks “have you lost your mind?’ Philippe replies: “You choose who I marry. You choose where I live and how much money I can spend. But you do not get to choose what I wear and who I fuck.”
Louis: “Understand this: everything you are reflects on me.” Philippe: “I’ve been dressed like this since I was three months old. My goal in life was to be less than you. It was not my choice ’twas my duty so that I would not be the cloud in front of the sun. You think it’s hard to be a king? Try being a king’s brother for a day.”
UGH. SO. PERFECT. We see so very clearly, in that little exchange, so simply shot with the rays of sun behind Louis, and Monsieur with his hair in disarray and face pale with makeup, a beautiful, almost ethereal boy/girl, what it is truly like to be the King’s brother. Philippe goes on: “how can I have your back when you won’t tell me the truth?” Frustrated little baby. I am genuinely hurting for him. Because this is all he ever wants, to have Louis trust him, to give him a “well done” and to be included.
Philippe then implies he knows more than what Louis thinks, and asks what happened to the baby. Totally unsurprising then, in a later scene, Louis finally capitulates and grants Philippe his greatest wish – to go to war. Am I being cynical? Did Louis suddenly think how awesome it would be to send his brother to war, to win him glory on the battle field? I think not. The thought of Philippe possibly not returning has most definitely occurred to him.
Meanwhile the Queen is still ill – the girl doctor Claudine fixes her and her estimation rises in Louis’ eyes. Her father is not impressed.
And to the final banquet scene. Jugglers, acrobats, all sorts of entertainments and delicious foods. And of course, the greatest entertainment of all…. Louis singling out the traitor Montcourt and verbally and publicly humiliating him.
Louis: “Your father was a common man with a fiefdom. A vassal to his overlord – the true noble. The Grand Signeur. Isn’t that right, Montcourt? (he pauses as Montcourt glances about, very much nervous now) You might be labelled a vassal, perhaps. Or a peasant. Yet you seek to raise yourself above those men. Both of whom would gladly sweat and toil to feed their families. Pay their taxes. And honour their duties to their king. You think yourself above them Montcourt, yet you lie far below. You pay nothing. You do nothing. Which leads me to believe you are nothing. (Louis smiles now) Which begs the question… (his smile slowly falls) -what is a nothing doing at my court?”
Montcourt stutters, says he has his papers, but Louis will have none of it. Yes his papers are all here after “an inexcusable delay.” (lookin’ at you, Louvois) And Louvois stutters, “we did not wish to bother you with such trivial affairs of the state.” To which Louis stands and yells “I AM THE STATE!” (historical note: it has never been documented that Louis ever said this)
You can cut the silence with a blunt butterknife as everyone quickly gets to their feet, Louis moving to stand in front of the table, to deliver his final thoughts: “It has come to my attention that many of you are uncomfortable here, on our visits to Versailles. Many of you prefer Paris. Or your lands and estates which you so dearly miss. Some, only a short ride away. To all of you, I say this. You will soon get used to it. And we will soon all discover who we are. (He looks at Montcourt) Your noble birth freed you from our taxes. Your falsehood has condemned you to pay. ” Montcourt replies that he has no money but his estate: Louis takes his keys. What shall I do? asks Montcourt as Marchal and the guards move in. Louis replies: “I am sure you will think of something,” then announces “I do not know that man. He does not belong in our court.” And Montcourt is hustled away. Louis goes on: “the time has come to prove to me who you are. All of you. You can rest assured I will do the same.” Louis leaves, everyone looks suitably worried/concerned and Philippe…. ah, Philippe resumes eating with a shrug and a “eh, what you gonna do?” expression 🙂
Everyone is in a tizzy, de Clermont amongst them. Yet after Louis leaves, they all begin dance and party as if nothing untoward has happened, as if they are not secretly shitting themselves at the thought of not meeting the king’s orders. The papers are, of course, akin to a passport or birth certificate, legitimate proof that nobles are who they say they are. Which means trouble for some, who are very much not who we think.
Then to the final scene/s, with Louis in his chambers, in a chair before the fire. “Pull up a chair.” A chair with arms, not a stool. Bontemps is taken aback: “only a king may sit next to his Majesty in a chair with arms.” Louis: “You are more than a king. You are my friend.” And Lordy, the look on Bontemps’ face….. So he sits – uncomfortably. Bontemps waits. Louis finally says: “I would very much like to hear stories about your son.”
And now Bontemps has the most wonderful monologue, a voice-over to accompany scenes of increasing decadence as everyone else drinks and parties outside. “In his last hours he asked me to tell him about my life with you. I told him the truth. that it is gods gift to me to be by your side. That the gardens seem so glorious, that they themselves gave birth to beauty. And might steal the breath from any man. I also told my son he would one day work and live in my place. That he might find himself part of the finest family in the world. All of whom dare to dream they might one day live like a king. Or a queen. In a palace that will seduce your eyes and steal your heart. And that one day when we are all gone, they will write stories about this place of wonder. But when they do, I feel those that hear it, might not believe it. And think it some kind of fairytale.”
We return to the party, where Sophie frolics in a fountain, her happiness morphing into screams of horror as we see Nabo floating face up in the water, before we again go back to Louis.
Louis: “Did your son approve of the dream?”
Bontemps: “He asked me if that was where he was going. I told him it was.”
Louis rises, thoughtful: “Some would say your son was in a better place. I happen to believe true paradise lies in his father’s arms. To be here. With you. In this moment. (Lord, Bontemps is moved, with tears in his eyes, and I just can’t…..) That is not our choice. God has made his plans and we cannot question his design. Just as my people can’t question mine. They will. They mean to kill me, friend. They will kill us all to preserve the past. They may even succeed. But change will come, no matter what. (he hears hooves and a carriage, walks slowly to the window, Bontemps following) And if we are to ensure, there is only one course…. we must lay our own foundation here.” Why here, Sire? Bontemps asks. Louis: “Because I will not be the King of Paris. I know who I am. I am Louis XIV. I am King of France. Now these nobles must prove their worth to me. (eyes the leaving carriages) See how they run.”
Fini. We see in this episode an escalation of the stakes, a sense of Marchal getting closer to the conspirators, the looming threat of war and will Philippe return? (I know the outcome beforehand, so no great shock there) and Louis’ determination to damn-well build his palace and FU to all who would oppose him. Fabulous.
Most awesome music: Paris by Black Atlass.