“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.”
from The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
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 17th century metro-sexual.
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 inhabiting 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 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.
General Alexander 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.
Thomas-Alexandre’s 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.
In 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.
Howard 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.
In the following interchange from an early episode in Season Two 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 paper.
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?
Treville: You’re being ridiculous.
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?
HERE’s where you can go to locate past episodes of The Musketeers on demand. And watch live Saturdays 9/8c. on BBC America.