March 19, 2016

BBC Drops its Pants for Men to Men Sex on Versailles

A new series set to air on BBC Two which looks at the sexual intrigue in the court of Louis XIV is already causing controversy, amidst claims that its explicit scenes of sex and violence contributing to an “arms race to the bottom” on British TV.

Versailles is a French-Canadian historical drama focusing on the construction of the Versailles Palace during the reign of Louis XIV. Early reviews and preview clips show the lavish costume drama to have all the violence of Game of Thrones, with all the salaciousness of US shows like How To Get Away With Murder.

Touted as the most expensive French TV series ever, Versailles was created by British duo Simon Mirren and David Wolstencroft, at a reported cost of £2.1m per episode, more than twice the average cost of an episode of Downton Abbey.

Although there is plenty of bedroom action involving Louis himself, it appears eyebrows are being raised higher around the portrayal of his brother Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, who is shown to have affairs with men, despite being married, and is also shown to cross dress.

“We fell off our chairs when we read about Philippe,” Wolstencroft told the Independent. Played by Alexander Vlahos who starred in Doctor Who and Merlin, Louis’s younger brother was a fearsome commander on the battlefield whose effeminacy seems to have been politically useful.

The creators point out that the gender and sexually fluid prince “was instrumental in steering the course of his brother’s adoption of culture as a tool for dominance and victory… a story about the king became a story about two brothers.”
The show has already been criticised by Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who told the Mail on Sunday this kind of show should not be aired on the BBC. “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.”

The BBC was recently criticised for its raunchy adaptation of War and Peace, which featured full frontal male nudity, and its current Sunday night show The Night Manager has been considerably more sexual than its ITV contender, Grantchester.

Bridgen added, “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.”

Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, also hit out at the BBC for airing the show, saying, “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.”

Sue Deeks, head of programme acquisition at the BBC defended the show, saying, “Versailles will be a delicious treat for BBC2 viewers.”

The BBC is currently faced with the renewal of its Royal Charter for the next decade, which will be decided at some point in 2016. While some critics in the government believe the BBC has strayed from its basic mission “to inform, educate and entertain”, others believe the BBC does not give value for money by not matching up to some of the more exciting content on its rival channels.

Filmed on location at the eponymous French palace, Versailles aired in France and Canada in November 2015, and is expected to air on BBC Two in May. 

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