Alexander Vlahos says season two of Versailles will contain far more male nudity – for the sake of equality.
The French period drama hit the headlines even before the first series aired on BBC2 as more conservative critics blasted it for its violence, nudity and sex scenes. Tory MP Andrew Bridgen waded in, arguing, “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.”
But Vlahos, who plays the Sun King’s brother Prince Philippe, said the outrage was “difficult” but ultimately unfair. Instead, his own criticism was of a different nature.
The actor explains: “For season one I kind of contested, ‘Why were the women always naked and never the men?’ On set. I questioned it really, as an actor. I wanted it to be equal, as I think all shows should be.
“And then I turned up for season two for rehearsals, and the head of [TV studio] Canal+ said to me, ‘Well you’ve got your wish now.’ I quickly ran to the gym, obviously, and was utterly terrified.”
So, in season two we can expect plenty of male nudity?
“Ohhhhh yes,” says Vlahos. “Yes, just you wait until you see episode two, that’s all I’m saying. We are much more equal as far as showcasing that element, that flavour of our show.”
When season one aired on BBC2 and the outraged headlines began, the cast of Versailles were already over in France filming season two.
For George Blagden, who plays Louis XIV himself, the reaction was bewildering. “I was quite surprised,” he explains. “I think the interesting thing is that we got a very different response to the show in different territories. The response in France has been so different to the response we got from the British press and the British public.”
“It was difficult, I’ll be honest with you,” says Vlahos. But it didn’t knock the cast back, and when it came to filming season two “it kind of ignited a fire in all of us.”
He continues: “The reaction especially to the nudity in season one I felt was a bit unjustified, because considering that there are a lot more shows out there that are a lot racier – I think Versailles is actually incredibly tame compared to a lot of shows out there.
“What we’re doing is showcasing the truth. Sex is a currency in Versailles, sexual politics is a tool that is used throughout court. It’s probably more valuable than money itself. And it would be a shame and in a way it would be unjust of us to not show that truthfully.
“I think the idea that people were shocked and the fact that there was a Conservative MP who was appalled by it just made me laugh, really, because it’s such an incredibly dated opinion of television, you know? There are so many more shows out there that are pushing the envelope far worse than us.
“But I’m also incredibly proud of the work that we’re doing because like I said we’re doing it in a very truthful way. And especially in season two, I think tonally we get all of the elements bang on.”
In this day and age, Vlahos adds, “the idea that a TV show is too racy seems quite preposterous to me.”
But they weren’t tempted to reign it in for season two? Absolutely not, says Blagden.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we tried not to let any response of the show affect what work we were doing on season two,” he says.
“So I’d say, we’ve not added or removed any level of things you’re referencing like nudity or violence, I think the show has continued to be what it has always been, which is represent this world in as an authentic way as possible whilst still being entertaining.”
Versailles season two will air from 9.30pm on Friday 21st April on BBC2