With Game of Thrones on the horizon next month, the countdown to what, as new GoT star Ian McShane puts it, a lot more “tits and dragons” is on. Game of Thrones has, for some years now, represented the extreme of sex and violence in television. If you look at the amount of almost-nudity on cable shows since its advent — The Americans and Mad Men have ventured into some near-HBO-level camera angles — it seems like it’s brought everything to the left with it.
But like, say, SE7EN emerged to challenge The Silence of the Lambs as the most disturbing serial-killer blockbuster in the ‘90s, there’s a new challenger for the soft-core television title. Canal+’s BBC-aired, Louis XIV-centric series from the winter of last year has not been made available on streaming services in the United States, but it has, unbeknownst to us Yankees, taken premium television to unprecedented heights of on-screen hedonism on the other side of the pond.
Like Game of Thrones, the pre-French Revolution drama Versailles ranks as one of the more expensive TV shows ever, and by far the most costly made in France, clocking in roughly at $32 million. It’s also probably the most controversial, gaining ire and protests from family rights’ advocate groups and members of the French and UK parliament. For these groups and others, the show’s artistic merit does not balance out its graphic male and female nudity, graphic violence, and constant boudoir blow-by-blow action (check out that overhead shot in the trailer above). It has been accused of simplifying and distorting the history, and pandering to global television standards — again, one has to think of GoT as well as older racy dramas like The Tudors) — by being filmed in English.
As Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen asked in a statement: “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.” The funny and notable thing about these objections is that the also-conservative UK Culture secretary has gone so far as to say, in a 2015 speech, that he’d like to see more “high-end” shows on the BBC, and used Game of Thrones as the main example (also, ludicrously, the last season of 24 and the also-sexed-up The Bastard Executioner).
It’s also comical the extent to which some of the objectionable elements off Versailles (and this is all, apparently, established in the pilot) mimics Game of Thrones’s component parts: There’s gay sex, GASP! crossdressing, and most importantly, a “queen with a penchant for dwarves.”
As usual, governmental voices of censorship sounds ridiculous and uninformed. Also, Versailles sounds and looks very silly. However, it did, unsurprisingly, extremely well in Europe, and was greenlit for a second season even before the pilot episode aired.
There’s been no confirmed plans to air it in the U.S., but with a second season on the way and so much notoriety on its side, we can be sure that it is not long in coming. An executive from one of the show’s production companies, Capa Drama, has made no bones about insuring crossover appeal, claiming that the creators were always hoping “to ensure the biggest international distribution possible”. So get ready to binge another 10-episode series full of “tits” and, if not dragons, muskets and drawing-and-quartering of the most brutal persuasion.