The Daily Stream: Versailles Was The Sexy French Historical Drama That Was Ahead Of Its Time

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Versailles"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix, StarzPlay

The Pitch: The year is 1667. Louis XIV, the King of France (George Blagden and his fantabulous wig) has been through the Fronde, which was a series of civil wars in France between 1648 and 1653. He's won, but he's worried about the loyalty of his courtiers. He decides to move his court from the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye near the bustling city of Paris, to a place he's far more comfortable with. He takes them to his father's old hunting lodge near Versailles to keep them contained and subdued. He's having this spectacular palace built around them, but these nobles aren't very happy about being forced to stay in this place. You put that many rich people who really don't like each other into a "small" palace, and crazy (and often very naked) things will happen. 

"Versailles" ran for three seasons, and before we get into the show, you should know that the costumes will make you weep with longing, and the wigs on both Louis and his brother Monsieur Philippe I, Duke of Orléans (Alexander Vlahos) will make you green with envy in a way no shampoo commercial ever has. The locations, including the real palace of Versailles, are even more beautiful than that. You should also be warned about the amount of sex and nudity here. If you're watching with the windows open, perhaps draw the curtains.

Why It's Essential Viewing

Nothing is more intriguing than watching the bed-hopping, country-ruling antics of the 17th century French court. "Versailles" has all the soapy goodness you're looking for in a period piece, but it's far more than that. This is a show about the ever-changing rules in a confined society with a single rulemaker. Mistresses are expected. Husbands of the king's favorites are often not only shoved off to a distant location, but very comfortable with the arrangement. Having the king's sexual favors sounds like a great thing and certainly gives you wealth and actual political power, but it's a tightrope balancing act. 

Just ask Françoise-Athénaïs, Marquise de Montespan (Anna Brewster). To be maîtresse-en-titre, or official mistress, one must be smart, pliable, keep the king entertained in the bed and out of it, discreet, but not too much, and willing to fight off all competitors, but not in a way that is too overt. If you lose the king's favor, all your wealth, power, and privilege is lost with it. You'll stop at nothing to get it back, even black magic, because there is always someone waiting in the wings. One such is the kinder-seeming, but just as ruthless in the personage of Madame de Maintenon (Catherine Walker). Oh, and then there is the Queen of France, sadly watching from the wings with her Spanish hair that just doesn't fit the current fashion. Marie-Thérèse, Queen Consort of France (Elisa Lasowski) will make you weep with understanding, all the while rooting for your favorite to jump into Louis' bed.

You Love Who You Love

The storylines here aren't just historical. We have a female doctor named Claudine (Lizzie Brocheré) who has some major chemistry with Fabien Marchal (Tygh Runyan), the king's chief of police. It's from her perspective that we see not just what the fancy people are up to, but also what is going on with the commoners. As we know, they were a powerful force in France, and something that would eventually bring down the monarchy.

One storyline of note (and the one I saw someone else watching at a friend's house that hooked me immediately) is the love life of Philippe, his paramour Chevalier de Lorraine (Evan Williams), and Philippe's wife, Elizabeth Charlotte, Princess of the Palatinate (Jessica Clarke). It's actually quite a beautiful story, something you don't often see in a period drama. Seeing these three go through jealousy, discomfort around the mores of the time, Philippe's dressing in women's clothing to embarrass his wife — who is not only not embarrassed, but fully accepting — the need to produce an heir when her husband isn't interested in women, and the acceptance of each other as a trio of friends (despite who's sleeping with whom) are such modern concepts that I was stunned to see them covered. I challenge you to watch this story play out over the three seasons of the series and not fall in love with each one of them.

Having watched "Versailles" three times through now, I can tell you that you'll see something new with each rewatch. The glorious hair and shiny white teeth may not be historically accurate, but a whole lot of this series is. You'll find yourself looking up what really happened as you watch, but you don't need to. The drama stands on its own. I cannot recommend it highly enough.