“It was like the eve of a battle; the hearts beat,
the eyes laughed, and they felt that the life they were perhaps going to lose,
was after all, a good thing.”
In BBC America’s
version of The Three Musketeers, and not unlike the Alexandre Dumas serial,
Porthos is quick to laugh, down an ale and roughhouse with his mates; he is
also the best at keeping niggling doubts or worries well hidden ‘neath his
leathers. Any likeness with other onscreen
adaptations soon tapers off as, in those, he is usually portrayed as a full of
himself swordsman with a penchant for dressing fine; a sort of metrosexual
He is also, in
earlier renditions, given to exaggeration: When first met in the Dumas serial,
he’s royally dressed, wearing a gold imbued baldric, and is embarrassed when
it’s revealed that only the front of the sword holder—that which is visible to
the public—is bejeweled. Later, he gives
a different account of a fight in which he’s been thoroughly thrashed, making
himself out to be the winner. A benign lie perhaps but still….
Other than these
surface details, I would wager that, in the 60 some-odd Musketeer television
and feature productions, Porthos has been the least developed member of the
king’s special forces. And as such, he seems the least complex; never given to
bouts of depression or sullenness as Athos and as far away from having a
spiritual thought as Aramis is close.
In this present reboot,
with Howard Charles as Porthos, more than just their official garb has changed.
Creator Adrian Hodges and his team have gifted us with a deeper look into what
inner thoughts might be tugging at this swordsman.
In this adaptation,
Porthos is neither portly, nor a flashy dresser and is not inclined to hyperbole.
At times—though he remains quick witted and ready to share a laugh—he seems
close to shy around ladies of note, but the differences go even deeper.
We learn he was orphaned
at an early age and took to the darkened corridors and back streets of Paris,
apprenticing with con artists and pickpockets. He would later rampage with the
thievery rings habiting Criminal Alley.
Was he beginning a
journey to find from whence he sprang when he “abandoned” that wayward life? Whatever
it was he was looking for when he set out on his own, he might not have been able
to say. What he found were the Musketeers. How he came upon them—or them him—remains
thus far unclear.
The most inspired variation;
however, is that he is not the familiar Caucasian Frenchman presented to us in
the past. Hodges has chosen to have this Porthos be of mixed bloodlines, which hearkens
back, not to the writings of Dumas but, to the man.
It is Dumas’ father,
known as the first Alexander Dumas
who is most likely to have been the inspiration for this updated Porthos.
To clarify, there
were three: Alexandre Dumas, père, author of
The Musketeers, had a son who, on also
becoming a writer of note, was called Alexandre Dumas, fils (La Dame aux
Camélias), to differentiate him from his famous father. But before both of them
there was the first; the père’s father and the fils grandfather.
Dumas (who used the name Alex) was born
Thomas-Alexandre Dumas in 1762 on the island of Saint-Domingue, (later Haiti)
to a woman of common heritage Marie-Cesette Dumas,
and a French nobleman, one Marquis Alexandre Davy
de la Pailleterie. Marie-Cesette was at
one time a slave, though later freed. She is thought to have been of African
heritage and, due to her name, probably Creole.
It was a “natural” birth; meaning the parents were unwed.
early life, both, suffered and benefited from being the Marquis’ natural son. It
swung from being sold into slavery by his own father, who lacked the fare for passage
home, to being sent for by the Marquis to be raised and schooled in France, to
finally being denied and abandoned once more when his father decided to marry
and it would have been inconvenient to have a mixed-raced son.
spite of the inconstancy of his relationship with his father, he did receive an
education and upon entering the military rose, quite quickly, through the ranks
to become a General in Napoleon’s army. He was a tall strapping fellow;
excellent of face and form and his stories of heroic battles and unjust
imprisonment turned into literary fodder for his own son, Alexander Dumas, père, who
wrote not only the Three Musketeer
serials, but The Count of Monte Cristo.
The mixed heritage lineage is evident when viewing likenesses of the famed author.
Charles in a recent interview with the Cambridge News addressed this aspect of prepping
for Porthos: “He was a general,
when I guess there weren’t many brown people around in uniform, so I was really
attracted to that element,” said Charles.
following interchange from an early episode in Season 2 the question arises for
Porthos: Who am I?
Porthos, looking solemn,
approaches Captain Treville with a piece of parchment.
Porthos: Captain… I
was hoping you could help me explain this.
Treville studies the
Porthos: I barely knew General de Foix. Why would he
leave me a legacy?
Treville: You saved
his life. Perhaps he wants to repay the favor.
Porthos: None of the
others got anything.
Treville: Why worry
about it. Why not be grateful for a bit of good fortune?
Porthos: Did he owe
me some kind of debt?
Treville: Why would
you think that?
Porthos: I think he
knew something about my background. I think he knew something about my mother…
or he’s my father.
Treville: I haven’t
seen de Foix for over twenty years. I don’t know anything.
Porthos: What are you
keeping from me? He knew my father, didn’t he? Is that it?
Porthos: I’m not a
fool, Captain, and you’re not a good liar.
Treville: Leave it…
Porthos! That’s an order.
The writers have
given this incarnation of Porthos his due and rightly so. Season one saw the barest hint at an exploration
of his roots. This season has opened
more avenues and thus rumblings of his spirit.
Just who are Porthos’
birth parents… was either the mother or the father a person of note? Porthos believes his mother to be African
born. Where is she in all of this? Was the father an aristocrat who abandoned
his child… his son?
Porthos has vowed to
never “Leave it!” His heritage and more will come into close scrutiny over the
next few episodes. In The Prodigal Son, (March 8th) more will
be unearthed, but will it be what Porthos wants, or even needs, to hear?