This article was originally published in The Courier on 25th January 2014.
The Musketeers: Sunday, BBC1
The Naked Rambler: Tuesday, BBC1
One of the most frequently adapted adventure yarns in all of popular fiction, Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers is an indelible cultural fixture, familiar to millions. Even if you've never read the original series of novels, you'll have enjoyed the swashbuckling escapades of these dashing, flashing blades via memorable film versions from the likes of Beatles director Richard Lester, or even the fondly-recalled '80s French cartoon, Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds (that jaunty theme song still haunts me to this day).
So do we really need another adaptation? Seasoned screenwriter Adrian Hodges (Primeval; Survivors) certainly thinks so. Brimming with brio and an infectious sense of fun, episode one of 10-part saga The Musketeers suggested he may be onto something.
Though all the familiar elements are in place – galloping horses, deftly staged duels, lashings of hearty laughter and poisonous plotting – they're leavened with welcome hints of darkness and depth. An unabashedly loose adaptation of Dumas' source material – Hodges has grafted his own storyline to the original characters and 17th century setting – it may be witty, handsome, sharp and breathless, but it never strays into outright camp or knowing self-parody.
Peter Capaldi wisely resists the temptation to ham it up as arch villain Cardinal Richelieu, delivering instead a quietly watchful and weary performance as a man whose merciless thirst for power has seemingly eroded his soul. Granted, the sulphuric spectre of Malcolm Tucker was unavoidable during any scene involving Richelieu's duplicitous political machinations; his smooth haranguing of the foppish King Louis briefly conjured the pleasing notion of Richelieu as one of Tucker's Blackadder-esque ancestors. But Capaldi can't help being associated with such an overpowering role; in any case, the association merely adds to the enjoyment.
Our nominal hero, D'Artagnan, played here by some pouting indie rock star hunk, is overshadowed, not only by Richelieu, but by brooding Musketeer Athos, who in the charismatic hands of Tom Burke is a far more interesting presence. Boasting the saturnine countenance of a troubled '70s illusionist, Burke's Athos is a demon-wrestling hero locked in private mourning for his lost lady love. Far from dead, her identity was eventually revealed as Milady de Winter, Richelieu's raven-haired, scheming sidekick. I suspect this intriguing, jagged triangle, rather than the cow-eyed travails of D'Artagnan, will drive the drama in weeks to come.
Despite its 9pm, Sunday night slot, The Musketeers is a Saturday evening family show in all but name. Save for a few heaving bosoms, phallic pistols and fleeting references to prostitution, there's nothing here to frighten the foals. Hodges knows his audience, and skewers it with aplomb. Delivered with just the right amount of seriousness and levity, his kinetic adaptation feels neither self-important nor annoyingly glib. There's potential here, a palpable promise.
Is Stephen Gough, otherwise known as The Naked Rambler, a harmless eccentric or a tragic nuisance? The answer, according to this vexed documentary, lies somewhere in between. The hapless definition of a rebel without a cause/clue, Gough can't explain why he's effectively ruined his life by stalking the nation unclothed. "There's a bigger thing at stake," he mumbled. "I'm not sure what that is."
Having spent the last seven years in prison due to his stubborn, confused, self-defeating principles, Gough trekked over 400 miles to visit his family, including the teenage children who've grown up in his absence. They could've visited him in jail if his insistence on remaining naked hadn't restricted his visiting rights. I wanted to shake him, but only if he'd put some clothes on. A severely lost soul searching for some sort of meaning, Gough, it transpires, comes from a family of seekers. His flummoxed old mum, a shrunken sigh in human form, said she didn't know why they'd turned out that way. "It seems a useless way of living your life."
I'm all for sticking it to The Man, but Gough came across as a rather sad and laughable character. A tackle-flashing attention-seeker, his search for truth has turned him into a novelty, a footnote, a pointless joke. I can only wish him well.