La Femme Musketeer
I remember first seeing this on the Hallmark Channel, but it is not well known and rarely shown on any of their current stations. It features Michael York as D’Artagnan (he was D’Artagnan in the ’70’s Three Musketeers movies [where Christopher Lee was Rochefort]) and John Rhys-Davis as Porthos. Gérard Depardieu (he was Porthos in Man in the Iron Mask) returns as Cardinal Mazarin. Like Man in the Iron Mask, the tale involves the offspring of the original four musketeers (“plagued by the offspring” is used a few times in the film) and like Princess of Thieves, the famous legend has a daughter, not a son. Valentine D’Artagnan has been well trained by her father and wishes to follow in his footsteps and become a commissioned musketeer.
The opening scrawl sets up: “In the year 1660, a bloody war rages between France and Spain with no sign of peace. In the French Court, a power struggle has begun between Cardinal Mazarin and the young King Louis XIV. The Cardinal is aided by his personal guard and King Louis is championed by his famous Musketeers.” Two men are discussing the situation at a battlefield; France is in danger of losing the war. One man has just returned from Spain on a mission from the king, and peace may be at hand. Though there are some who are not interested in peace; including Mazarin it is implied.
Next, we’re in the country, a masked person waiting as others surround them. Then they’re riding. The masked person is cornered in another field and a cloaked Michael York emerges and crosses blades with the masked individual. A bell rings, bringing the duel to a halt. The mask and hat are removed, revealing a young woman. D’Artagnan thanks the men who helped with his exercise, he and his daughter need to go home for dinner. D’Artagnan tells Valentine that she is ready and Valentine thanks her father for believing in her. But they must hurry for they are expecting company for dinner. Valentine is not fond of dresses, but she does ask her mother to brush her hair, like she did when Valentine was young [a very modern-looking haircut]. The family that is dining with the D’Artagnans has a son they may hope will catch Valentine’s eye. He’s very dull, spending most of his time talking about investments and tells Valentine that a woman should never spend more than a husband sets aside. Valentine chooses to demonstrate her knife juggling skills, impressing her father and I’m sure scaring their guests.
Meanwhile, at the French palace, King Louis is flirting with his mistress, Marie. Marie wants to know when they will be married. Louis informs her that if he was free to marry whom he loved, he would undoubtedly be with her. But as king, if his marriage can end the war…. Marie guesses that he intends to marry the Spanish princess Maria Theresa [historically, he does. And he did have an Italian minister, Cardinal Mazarin]. Louis attempts to pacify Marie that they could still each other. No, they can’t, she responds.
We see that Cardinal Mazarin keeps two separate books and has supplies meant for the troops sent to his estate in Tuscany. He hopes the war with Spain will continue to line his pockets. Villois, the captain of his guards, steps in. Mazarin wants the Musketeers thinned out. Villois confronts the Musketeer commander, Finot after his conversation with the Cardinal. Villois was almost a Musketeer, but D’Artagnan stood in his way.
King Louis holds a performance, cementing his image as the “Sun King,” and Marie is a violinist in the orchestra. They flirt afterwards, but are once again interrupted by needs of state. It is confirmed that the Spanish princess will be arriving in a week. In England, a younger Duke of Buckingham is hosting a party, but leaves in the company of a lovely woman, Lady Bolton. He takes her to his chambers and shows her his favorite portrait, Queen Anne of France. Rumor has it that Anne and the older Duke of Buckingham were unrequited love, on the Duke’s part. Then, the son turns to Lady Bolton; she pulls a pin out of her hair. As he’s kissing her, she pulls out a small blade and slices his neck. He falls back, dead. Lady Bolton takes the portrait and escapes.
Outside Plantchet’s tavern, Villois and some of the guards are running a line of gunpowder. Three friends happen by and the cocky leader, Gaston, challenges Villois to a duel, to demonstrate that the Musketeers are better than the Cardinal’s guards. His two companions eventually have to break up the fight. Plantchet wanders out to see about the commotion and comes very close to lighting the gunpowder (and we yell at the screen for him to stop). Later that evening, all three boys will be getting into trouble again; Etienne and Antoine for gambling, and Gaston for womanizing.
Valentine sneaks out, with her father’s blessing (and her mother looking on). D’Artagnan gives her a letter of introduction. He is already proud of her and offers her the advice to fight at the least provocation and never submit to insults or edicts. He gifts her his sword; there are only four like it in France. Along the way, Valentine runs into Lady Bolton’s carriage as its attacked. She rides to the rescue and Lady Bolton, after being surprised to learn that her rescuer is not a man but a woman, invites her into her carriage so they may ride to Paris together.
Valentine enters Musketeers headquarters right after Commander Finot finishes reprimanding the three rascals; he’d like to kick them out, but he places them on probation in deference to their fathers. Valentine and Gaston run into each other and Gaston challenges who he thinks is a country rube to a duel the next morning. Valentine wishes to speak to Finot, but he won’t see her. When she hands him her letter, he dismisses her as a woman; there has never been a female Musketeer. If she was D’Artagnan’s son, there would be no question. Valentine argues that her being female should have nothing to do with her eligibility (and women cheer!). If Finot was half the man her father said he was…. Young Captain Paul Moriac, whom is a childhood friend of Valentine’s promises to speak to the commander on her behalf. Valentine stays at Plantchet’s.
Lady Bolton sees Cardinal Mazarin. He slices open the portrait to reveal a letter (of course, he slices through the front of the painting, not the back, just to be extra vicious), from Anne to Buckingham, insinuating that Buckingham may be the father of Louis XIV (which would damage young Louis’s claim to the throne). With the letter, Mazarin can control Louis and thus France. Marie then bursts in; Mazarin is her uncle. She begs for help with Louis. Mazarin promises that Louis will not marry the Spanish princess (we can all guess how he’ll arrange that).
Morning dawns and Valentine arrives for her duel, though she has dispensed with disguising herself as a boy [again, this only works if one lacks significant curves and hides their hair in their hat]. Gaston at first doesn’t wish to fight her, but she insists. When he catches sight of her sword, he calls he a thief; he, Etienne, and Antoine all have matching swords that belonged to their fathers. So did Valentine’s. That’s when they realize who she is (it must be several years since they’ve seen her). However, the Cardinal’s guards show up and another fight breaks out. The sword fighting is rather fantastic. Some of the flips and such are more martial arts-looking, but not to the extent of The Musketeer.
Back home, D’Artagnan is attacked by three men. His wife knocks out the ruffians with her frying pan. Actually, the ruffians are D’Artagnan’s old friends, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. They had come to kidnap D’Artagnan and visit their sons in Paris. The trio are thespians now, putting a small show on in various villages. D’Artagnan agrees; his wife also wouldn’t mind if he checks in on Valentine.
Commander Finot has been ordered to take his Musketeers to the front. Moriac is temporarily in charge of the corps. Being on probation, Gaston, Etienne, and Antoine are not going with their comrades. Moriac hasn’t had a chance to speak to Finot about Valentine. She decides to follow Finot and prove herself in battle. Except she discovers that the troop has been ambushed by men with a cross tattoo (the Cardinal’s guards). Valentine reports Finot’s death and the attack to the king. Louis is irate; Mazarin has crossed a line. He is urged to increase his influence on France in order to decrease Mazarin’s hold. Louis officially agrees to marry Maria Theresa. He orders Moriac, now commander of the Musketeers to secretly find and guard the princess. Moriac takes Gaston, Etienne, and Antoine with him and gives permission for Valentine to train with the rest of the corps.
In the meantime, Mazarin orders Villois to ensure that the princess does not arrive in Paris. He wants no witnesses, so Villois is to take unmarried men to complete the task. With agreeing to marry to stop the war, Louis has to send Marie away. She storms out and to her uncle’s chambers for help. Mazarin is not in, so she sits to write a letter, spilling ink in the process. When she searches to find something to blot the mess, she discovers the old letter. She has to take it to Louis. Lady Bolton walks in and demands the letter. Marie is smart enough to realize that Bolton is in league with her uncle and they are not friends of Louis. Marie hides from the guards and runs to the Musketeer headquarters, making it as far as the yard in front of the building, where Valentine is practicing. But Lady Bolton has pursued her and throws a knife as Marie hands the letter off to Valentine. Marie warns Valentine that Lady Bolton wishes the king harm with her dying breath. Valentine holds a sword to Lady Bolton, but Bolton calls for conveniently passing guards and blames Valentine of the murder. Valentine runs and makes it back to Plantchet’s. She’s read the letter and decides to take it to Moriac; she has to get out of Paris. Plantchet and other musketeers in his tavern are arrested for harboring Valentine.
Some of the Cardinal’s guards follow Valentine and a fight breaks out when she reaches Moriac and the other three. When one is about to shoot Valentine, Moriac steps in front of her. He’s killed, Gaston dispatching the guard responsible. They bury Moriac, but must continue on their mission. Valentine will join Gaston while Etienne and Antoine go the other direction. That evening, Valentine reminisces to Gaston that Paul had begged her father for lessons and when he discovered Valentine practicing the same moves, he didn’t laugh at her. She had the fantasy at one time, that they would marry and be Musketeers together. I actually think they would have made a good couple. She feels that Moriac is dead because of her; Gaston hugs her and talks her into going to sleep.
D’Artagnan and the other three Musketeers arrive in Paris to discover Plantchet has been arrested. Plantchet fills D’Artagnan in on recent events and all four leave to hunt down their children (old men are hilariously grumpy and cranky in the morning). In the meantime, Villois has tracked down the princess, killed her guards, and abducted her and her ladies. He sends word to Mazarin, demanding new terms in their deal. The Cardinal failed to get Villois his family’s lands back and the man knows he cannot trust Mazarin. The Cardinal sends Lady Bolton to Villois. Those two end up making their own alliance after Valentine falls into their meeting (she and Gaston had tracked down the Spanish coach, thanks to Valentine recognizing Spanish lace, then she recognized Lady Bolton in town and climbed up on a roof to overhear their conversation). Villois suffers no revulsion to torturing a woman. Gaston hides, then follows so he knows where Valentine is taken.
Etienne and Antoine manage to get into trouble a few towns over and are about to be hung when their fathers come to the rescue [you can see where the ropes are prepped to be cut]. They catch up with Gaston, who tells them were Valentine is being held. She’s actually with the princess and her ladies and currently trying to pick the lock. Maria Theresa wonders if all women in Paris are like Valentine; no. She worries about marrying Louis. Valentine laughs; she thought that the princess is supposed to marry a king. There is further obligatory girl talk, but when Bolton and Villois enter and demand answers from Valentine, Maria tries to take on Villois. He then threatens to kill Maria and her ladies to get Valentine to talk. But he’s interrupted by a commotion above.
The Musketeers have arrived (the old men are not able to climb up the side of a building any longer). Maria, when she took on Villois, got the key, so they escape their cell. Gaston, Etienne, and Antoine are surrounded by guards when Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan turn up. D’Artagnan and Villois duel and Villois is about to win when Valentine arrives, orders Gaston to protect the princess, and takes over the duel. They end up inside and at some point, Valentine manages to lose her sword, getting her hands on kitchen utensils, but she’s knocked down and Villois is poised to run her through with the broken hilt of D’Artagnan’s sword. Valentine grabs the blade and catches Villois.
In the commotion, Lady Bolton takes the princess and her ladies, but once again they catch their abductor off guard and hit her with a shovel. When she comes to, Lady Bolton disappears into the sun and we don’t see her again [when I first watched the movie, I thought she would come back at the end to muck everything up]. Everyone heads off to Paris. One of the Cardinal’s men spots them and sends a pigeon to the palace. It’s intercepted by the king first. The older musketeers split off to free Plantchet and the other musketeers. At the palace, Mazarin greets Valentine and is about to have her arrested when they’re soon outnumbered by musketeers. Plantchet calls for Louis to come out. Maria Theresa steps out of her carriage and greets the man she is to marry. Valentine delivers the letter (finally) to Louis, and states that Marie was trying to protect him when she died.
We end with a ceremony, Louis thanking Valentine for her actions and commissions her into his Musketeers. D’Artagnan is the new commander, and he will give her no quarter. Gaston is stunned by the sight of Valentine in a dress (and a modern hairstyle). They all salute with their swords, the classic “all for one and one for all,” ending the film.
As TV Tropes would say, this is an example of Generation Xerox. Etienne is religious like his father. Antoine is the big bruiser. Valentine is a skilled swordsman like her father. Gaston flirts tirelessly with women. Mazarin echoes Richelieu in his desire to rule France. Lady Bolton is a copy of Milady de Winter. Villois is similar to Rochefort. I mean, for the audience that tends to watch Hallmark it’s a way for them to remember who is who and accept it as a Musketeer movie. I do like the film for having a female protagonist, and I think it’s great that D’Artagnan is so supportive of her dreams (unlike Robin in Prince of Thieves who would have preferred his daughter to engage in female activities).
Again, the sword fights are good; there’s humor; I don’t think Gaston is a good match for Valentine, there’s no spark on her side. I’m not terribly fond of the costuming, the leather looks too shiny, and Valentine’s hair is far too modern. I watch the movie to cheer a woman becoming a Musketeer.
Next Time: 2011’s The Three Musketeers