How the Dordogne, the Lot, and the Lot-et-Garonne became 17th Century France

Rocamadour Sanctuary

Written by Harriet Sams – Writer and Director of The First Musketeer

Trying to make a film on a low budget is tricky enough, but when your series is set around 400 years ago in France it becomes a monumental challenge. I always knew that I would film this series in France, after all, our iconic heroes are a part of their rich history, but I regularly get asked why I chose to ship nearly 50 people to a different country with next to no money.

The answer, for me, was simple. If you want to make a series set in 17th century France, go to places that were around in 17th century France. Although I’m from the UK, I was fortunate enough to grow up in the Lot region of Southern France, bordered by the Lot-et-Garonne and the Dordogne, areas that are somewhat equivalent to British counties, and named after the grand rivers that flow through them.

Le Lot

The beauty of these regions are famous worldwide, and I certainly never took for granted the fact that you are only ever a few miles away from the nearest castle, or “Chateau”. So began a year long location scout, trying to find places that were not only beautiful, but barely touched by modern life, and would have been around in 1619. These are some of the places I found:

Rocamadour – Lot

Rocamadour is a stunning town built into the side of a cliff, and one of the most famous tourist attractions in France. It has a massively rich history, and is also a major religious site for pilgrims across the globe. Not the most accessible location for a film shoot as the Sanctuary where we shot our scenes is only accessible by walking up their famously steep and copious steps, or by taking a large lift/elevator down. It was certainly worth it in the end though as this location turned out to be one of our most beautiful. The sanctuary where we shot is the first image pictured at the top of this post, and below is one of the many scenes we filmed there.

Ghislain is saved by Athos

 

Chateau de Losse – Dordogne

Chateau de Losse

The Chateau de Losse is a bit of a hidden gem. A Renaissance Manor set along a river, it plays the part of Richelieu’s private estate. Not only did we choose it because it has been exceptionally restored to it’s original decor, and the space it provides for a film crew to work, but also because the real Cardinal Richelieu once visited the Chateau, with some damaging consequences. It is beautiful both inside and out, famous for it’s historic gardens that are worth the visit alone.

The Pilgrim waits in The Chateau de Losse

 

Chateau de Bonaguil – Lot-et-Garonne

Chateau de Bonaguil

The Chateau de Bonaguil is an epic Castle that sits atop of a charming little town, one which I remember fondly as a child as the place I used to be treated to ice cream. Although the castle itself is an intimidating image, we actually used it as the streets of Paris. Having fallen into a state of ruin, although by no means indiscernible from how it might once have looked, the fact that the majority of the roofs are missing makes it look like a medieval town of stone from the inside. We used multiple areas of this castle, including the cavernous passages that run beneath it, and it became like a second home to the cast and crew, at least until the Make-up team heard some of the Ghost stories that surround the mysterious Chateau.

 

The Chateau de Fumel – Lot-et-Garonne

Chateau de Fumel

The Chateau de Fumel, rather than being a privately owned castle, is actually a municipal building for the local area. It does however have some stunning gardens and a dramatic sheltered walkway that doubles up as a Parisian street in our series. A great location that only suffered once during a set up for one of our scenes, when an unexpected wedding party crashed the site to have their photos taken before seeing off the happy couple on their honeymoon. What they thought of a group of people running around with cameras and swords I don’t know.

Duke de Luynes in Fumel

These are just some of the places we used in September, and if we get the opportunity to return for Season 2 we hope to use many more, and wouldn’t shoot elsewhere if given the choice. In the end, the expense of getting to France was more than worth it. The accommodating representatives of Film France welcomed us to their country, and we were able to film on locations that were not only historically accurate, but also way beyond anything we could have achieved by building streets as sets. And after all, I think it’s finally time that a film about The Three Musketeers is actually shot in the country that produced them.

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Costuming the First Musketeer

Marion's Red Dress

One of the most important elements of any Historical adventure is the costumes. Jessica Ozlo began designing and making each of the character’s costumes nearly a year before departing for France, with each actor having their own custom made outfit.

Just the two main gowns alone contain over 100 metres of fabric, presenting a monumental task for our team of talented makers.

Milady de Winter

But it wasn’t just our femmes fatales who’s costumes presented a challenge. The sleeves on Athos’ doublet were hand embroidered, as well as many of the musketeers’ numerous shirts, which were decorated with beautiful embroidery based on historical patterns.

Athos, Musketeer

Being such an important source for an actor to get into character, we had to make sure that each costume suited not only the actor, but the role they were playing, with everything having to be discussed, from the colour, right down to the specific fabric used.

And of course they had to be practical. Choosing a beautiful silk that rips as soon as the actor gets on a horse is an issue, so our team had to make sure the fabric was reinforced, as well as keeping a member of the wardrobe department on hand at all times, equipped with needle and thread, just in case. And who was the worst culprit for splitting his trousers? Unsurprisingly, it’s our nimble Porthos.

Porthos, The First Musketeer

The Femmes Fatales

Milady De Winter

We’ve introduced the men so far, but now it’s time to shine some more light on the Femmes Fatales of The First Musketeer.

The infamous Milady De Winter, played by Jessica Preddy, makes an appearance, but you’ll have to watch the series to discover her story, whilst the new character of Marion De Lorme, played by Nicole O’Neill, is introduced to the Musketeer mythology for the first time.

Marion de Lorme

Although The Three Musketeers is a story centered on brotherhood, the women are important catalysts in our Heroes’ tales and have the power to affect the fates of the Musketeers with their actions, and teach them never to trust a book by it’s cover.

Milady De Winter and Athos

Musketeer Combat Weekend

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One of the most important elements of creating an action packed adventure series is to actually have some action. So last weekend we assembled our cast for their first weekend of “combat training” with the fantastic ID – Independant Drama fight team to get them trained up in the art of stabbing. Ronin Traynor and Dita Tantang were on hand to teach our actors to fight using rapier and dagger, a task they took to with great enthusiasm. To see more photos from the weekend check out our Flickr page by clicking here.

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After a day of fighting our musketeers took to the local pub. Let’s just say that what happens on the combat weekend should stay on the combat weekend, and the following day was met with somewhat less enthusiasm. However we had cause for celebration as we were joined by our newest cast member Toby Lord, the third Scot to join our team. This was the first of many training days for our actors.

toby lord

The importance of authenticity on screen can’t be emphasized enough. When we get to France and begin to shoot the full series the actors will have an enormous task on their hands with all the riding and fighting involved, and obviously their safety is paramount. We have a way to go on the road to The First Musketeer but by September our actors will be throwing swords around without a second thought… if they last that long…