Versailles is the latest European import to land on our TV screens – and there’s no denying that it contains nudity, violence and scenes of a sexual nature.
This is a historical romp, following a young King Louis XIV as he dreams of a grand palace at Versailles, struggles to maintain his power grip on France and sleeps with most of the women in his royal court.
It’s stylish, sexy… and potentially shocking. Because, although it hasn’t even aired in the UK yet, Versailles has already found itself at the centre of some controversy.
Much of this chatter comes from the fact that the French drama, starring George Blagden and Alexander Vlahos, has found a home on the BBC.
“Public service broadcasting is meant to be for the public benefit, but it is very difficult to see whose benefit is being served by showing such highly graphic and explicit scenes on TV,” Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust told the Mail Online last month.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen argued: “There are channels where, if you wish to view this sort of material, you would have to pay for it. BBC viewers don’t have a choice. They have to pay for it whether they approve or not. Is this an example of the BBC dumbing down and seeking more sensationalised programming? That’s an arms race to the bottom – quite literally in this case.”
Its “highly graphic” sex scenes have even seen Versailles dubbed pornography. “Dressing up pornography and violence in a cravat and tights doesn’t make it cultural,” says Mediawatch UK’s Sam Burnett.
So does Versailles actually go too far?
“There is violence and raunchy sex scenes and nudity,” admits Versailles actor Vlahos. There are nipples, orgasms, gay oral sex and an attempt on the King’s life before the opening credits. Much more sex, a stabbing and a brutal beating after.
But it’s nothing a Game of Thrones fan hasn’t seen before. It’s like The Tudors, but raunchier. It’s soapy and steamy, with a cool soundtrack and an attractive young cast.
“That’s what different about this period drama,” says Vlahos. “It’s not Downton Abbey. The average age of our cast is 25. It’s a bunch of cool young kids in power having amazing house parties!”
Versailles looks fantastic. It’s got sumptuous costumes, incredible sets and stunning attention to detail. It’s atmospheric and artistic. And there is more to it than its scandalous sex scenes. There are secrets that need covering up. A power struggle between the volatile King and his flamboyant younger brother, between the King and his court, between the King and all of France. Plus the promise of an incredible palace, because “a king without a castle is no king at all.”
Yes, Versailles is silly. No, it’s probably not one for historical purists. But it is entertaining.
In fact, if you ask me, the fact that it’s inciting panic in Conservative MPs makes it more appealing, and I’m certainly going to be tuning in past episode one.
Versailles starts tonight at 9:30pm on BBC2