Musteteers today would have bungee jumped...

The Musketeers: Porthos (Howard Charles), D'Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), Athos (Tom Burke), Aramis (Santiago Cabrera)
The Musketeers: Porthos (Howard Charles), D'Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), Athos (Tom Burke), Aramis (Santiago Cabrera)

Winter nights and period romps go hand in hand, so step forward BBC One’s lavish new series The Musketeers. Writer Adrian Hodges and lead cast members talk to Susan Griffin about bringing a contemporary twist to this well-loved yarn

Some might think The Musketeers has been done to death but not the BBC, who’ve thrown some serious money at an epic series that promises to liven up our wet and miserable Saturday nights over the next 10 weeks.

Their confidence surely stems from the writer and producer Adrian Hodges – though he’s the first to admit he tackled the project with a little trepidation.

Not because he thinks people have lost interest in the swashbuckling genre, but rather the notion has become fraught with cliche or, as he puts it, “full of traps for the unwary.”

“Swashbuckling’s become a kind of code word for insubstantial characterisation, endless sword fights which have little or no consequence, and a kind of old-fashioned approach to storytelling which is dull and encrusted with period trappings and lame jokes,” says 56-year-old Hodges, who co-created Primeval and wrote the screenplay for My Week With Marilyn.

So Hodges set about writing a series that had all the hallmarks associated with the heroic 17th century characters – Athos, Porthos and Aramis and their protege D’Artagnan, the inseparable friends who live by the motto ‘all for one and one for all’ – but felt relevant to today’s viewers.

While the series isn’t a straight adaptation of The Three Musketeers, the novel by Alexandre Dumas published in 1844, it’s heavily inspired by the original.

Cut to Prague last summer and Luke Pasqualino, who came to prominence as Freddie McClair in Skins, is enjoying some much-needed time off from the set. “It’s absolutely vital to be here [filming]. To do something like this in England would never have worked,” says the 23-year-old who plays D’Artagnan, the young man who leaves for Paris in order to join the revered Musketeers of the Guard.

Before getting started, Peterborough-born Pasqualino watched the numerous adaptations that have been made over the years, “to see what other people had done and how the Musketeers had been portrayed” – though he hints that his interpretation of his character’s a little more hot-headed than others.

“I tried to put that out there,” he says. “He is a desperate romantic at heart, as well.”

Before filming began, the cast embarked on ‘Musketeer boot camp’. “We stayed in a castle for a week outside of Prague,” explains Pasqualino.

“There were fitness tests, getting up at stupid o’clock, horse riding for two hours, coming back to do two hours of sword fighting and then a short lunch, then repeating the horse riding and sword fighting, it was non-stop!”

Exhausting as it was, it was the most valuable week of the shoot. “It put us in great stead for the rest of the show,” the actor adds.

The first ‘Musketeer’ Pasqualino met was Howard Charles, 30, the theatre actor who depicts Porthos.

“Instead of the fat, drunk gambler, Adrian wanted to make Porthos the warrior in the group, paying homage to Alexandre Dumas’s father, who was a General,” reveals Charles.

“Porthos is someone who knows the value [of life] so therefore enjoys it, because he knows it’s not going to last forever.”

Like the book’s description, he can basically use anything as a weapon.

“In my introduction to the series, someone actually pulls a sword on me and wants to have a duel, and I use a fork,” reveals Charles, laughing.

The Musketeers might all be daredevils but Santiago Cabrera, 35, who plays Aramis, believes his alter ego really has to watch his step.

“He doesn’t have a filter in many ways, he sometimes just sticks his foot in it,” says the Venezuelan actor who’s previously appeared in Merlin and Heroes.

“Today, I think Aramis would be doing parachutes and bungee jumps, extreme sports. That’s part of being a Musketeer, living life to the full, confronting death.”

Given the subject matter, it’s no surprise there were a lot of injuries on set. “It’s one of the occupational hazards of being a swashbuckler,” offers Capaldi, who suffered a dislocated thumb during the shoot. “Embarrassingly, not from swinging a sword around,” he admits.

“My injury came from a domestic the cardinal was having with Milady. I threw her against the wall, not realising I’d caught my thumb in her large frock.”

Fortunately instinct took over: “I shoved it back in, which made my eyes water and my knees weak.”

The Musketeers would be proud.

:: The Musketeers begins on BBC One tomorrow, Sunday, January 19