23 thoughts on “Starz’ Dangerous Liaisons: Episodes 1-3

  1. Okay, if one more costume designer says they’re trying to be “a little more modern” (relatable) I am going to puke! Sorry, I’m having a really bad week. Love you ladies!

  2. I think Kosar Ali looks beautiful in this show, but without being an expert, I don’t know that her costumes strike me as particularly accurate to what a Muslim woman of African descent would actually wear in period France (something I kind of doubt the costumers did much research on).

  3. Hmm. It’s ok for Paloma to rock machine embroidered silk, but we’re trashing original 18thC waistcoats because embroidery is a lost art. I guess like everybody else who is ever interviewed by media, these costumiers’ words get twisted or edited, or turned into bytes.
    I nearly whooped out loud at your “fibre vs weave” comment! It’s such a pet peeve! Our local ebayesque site’s categories for fabrics are a similarly impossible garble of weaves and fibres, resulting in it being impossible to use as people never know where to list things so it all goes into “cotton.” Meatheads (and yes I have fought them over it and they think I am a mad woman. Which I am, but this is not an example of it, thank you!)

  4. Thanks for reviewing this! This is yet another series I’m likely not going to get to see, and the run-downs of the costumes and plot elements you provide are probably more enjoyable, anyway.
    One quibble, though, with this :
    “…the show doesn’t understand men’s shirts, as Valmont is generally wandering around in his pants shirtless which makes no sense since men pulled their shirts down around their junk as protection/what we’d consider underwear.”

    While I’m certain this was standard practice, I’ve also seen museum pieces online that are being described as men’s underwear from this period– so perhaps some men wore linen underbreeches as well?
    Additionally, unless Valmont’s outerwear is made of something incredibly coarse (like sackcloth or haircloth), there’s no real reason for “protection” from contact with it, and the tucked-in shirt would give no real support to his “junk.”
    Men do frequently “go commando” all day long these days, so I could see Valmont sometimes “freeballing” without a shirt tucked in– especially if the shirt is not merely untucked but off. It’s not the equivalent of wearing a corset without a chemise underneath.
    Looking forward to future recaps of this! Great job!

    1. Was it possible it was the outer clothing being protected (from assorted penile effluvia) rather than the junk itself?

  5. I don’t get “overwhelmed`’ by the fashion when watching something like this. I might be baffled, puzzled, astonished or jealous, but my poor, sweet naive self does not get “overwhelmed”

  6. Thank you for the review! I’m glad to see someone finally point out the thing that so bugs me about this show: the “origin story” totally does not match the characters from the novel (and the 1988 film), who wield their privilege as unselfconsciously as they breathe. It also doesn’t match the explicit text of the novel. Harriet Warner has claimed that the backstory she invented was inspired by a line from a key Merteuil letter, Letter 81, in which Merteuil says that she is “her own creation.” But that makes me wonder if Warner has read the rest of the letter, in which Merteuil gives a detailed account of her background and her coming of age as a sheltered girl from an aristocratic family and then a young bride. It’s all extremely conventional; when Merteuil says she is a self-made woman, she is clearly referring to the self-driven forging of her character. (Her autobiography has some fascinating details that I personally find much more interesting than the social-climbing prostitute in the Starz series!) As for Valmont, the same Merteuil letter taunts him about how he’s never had to surmount any obstacles and had everything handed to him on a silver platter because he was born with all the advantages (title, wealth, good looks). As it happens, Valmont does at one point mention (Letter 115) that there was one time when he was in a sexual relationship solely out of obligation, with a “Comtesse de ***” who was helping secure a position at the royal court for him. He also makes it clear that he still resents the Comtesse because of it (“Of all the women I’ve had, she’s the only one of whom I actually enjoy speaking ill”).

    Also: in both the book and the 1988 movie, Merteuil says that when Valmont began to court her she already knew of his reputation as a libertine and longed to cross swords with him, as it were, both because she was attracted to him and because adding him to her body count was a matter of “glory” (or “self-esteem,” in the movie). We also know from an “editor’s footnote” that their relationship began after Merteuil’s then-lover (the one who is set to marry Cecile de Volanges) left her for Valmont’s mistress. It’s ironic because the book has a LOT of ambiguities and mysteries (we don’t know, for instance, any specifics of how Merteuil and Valmont’s relationship actually began) but the Starz miniseries chooses to do a backstory on those aspects of their past which we do know from the novel/film and which are shown here completely differently.

    Lastly, the same Letter 81 also discusses Merteuil’s maid Victoire — here, her practical best friend. In the book, Victoire is indeed Merteuil’s trusted maid, but their history is far less warm and fuzzy. She is the daughter of Merteuil’s wet nurse (her “milk-sister,” in the terminology of the time) who, as a young adult, committed some sort of “folly of love” that made her parents feel she had dishonored the family. Merteuil encouraged them to have Victoire forcibly confined to a convent and helped them get a “special warrant” for her imprisonment from a cabinet minister she knew. (Those were the “sealed letters,” lettre de cachet, that allowed a person to be imprisoned without trial, or without even a formal crime.) Then, she persuaded Victoire’s parents to leave the warrant in her possession and defer its enforcement contingent on Victoire’s good behavior. Since Victoire doesn’t know of Merteuil’s role in obtaining this warrant, she regards Merteuil as her savior; but she also knows that if she crosses the marquise, she could always be locked up. Thus she is basically kept in servitude by a combination of loyalty and fear (plus Merteuil knows that if Victoire ever goes decides to expose her, she can easily discredit the maid by depicting her as a disgruntled servant and an ex-criminal). In other words … a much, much darker storyline.

    Let’s even leave aside how incredibly ahistorical the plot of the series is. For an aristocrat to disinherit his only son and leave the estate to one’s widow and the title to one’s stepson was basically complete unheard of, barring exceptional circumstances (e.g. if the son was thoroughly and publicly disgraced, or in prison). The line of aristocratic succession was serious business! Even making a younger son one’s principal heir was near-impossible except in the circumstances mentioned above, or unless the eldest son had taken clerical vows. (The famous Talleyrand, for instance, was basically coerced by his family into joining the clergy so that the estate and title of the Comte de Perigord could go to his younger brother, because Talleyrand’s bad foot would have made it very difficult for him to have a military career and his father wanted his heir to follow in his footsteps as an officer.) And how in the world does Valmont hope that one of his cougars is going to get him a title? Rich noblewomen didn’t hand out titles, only the King could do that. Hostly, Valmont’s story in the series is more like something out of Maupassant’s Bel Ami (which takes place about 100 years later).

    Also: the series doesn’t even seem to know if it wants to be a straight-up prequel or a show “inspired by” the original. Note that it takes place in 1783 (according to the screen titles). That’s … one year after the novel was published. It also looks like the Jacqueline de Montrachet story is a recycling of the Valmont/Merteuil/Tourvel triangle, with variations (i.e., the seduction is now entirely Merteuil’s idea and it’s for revenge), and I think the daughter of the Comtesse de Sevigny will have a storyline with the Chevalier Danceny similar to Danceny/Cecile in the book/movie. I also have a hunch (based on the name of Valmont’s usurper stepbrother) that he will appear in a reenactment of another book subplot.

    It’s frustrating because I love the series’ visuals, including the costumes, and I think the cast is great — Nicholas Denton’s Valmont is actually much closer to how I imagine the vicomte than John Malkovich’s version, and Alice Engelbert makes a great Merteuil when she adopts her aristocratic persona. I would have loved to see them in a miniseries that properly adapts the novel! (I say properly because the movie inevitably loses a lot of its nuances and subplots, and I think a miniseries is the best way to do it.) The storyline they have here … I suppose has its moments if you forget about the novel, though parts of it are really off (like the whole storyline with Gabriel, which feels as if Victor Hugo’s Claude Frollo inadvertently wandered into a Maupassant novel). But dang, this series could have been so much more.

    1. Your remarks are spot on.
      I would add that the « stain » of her prostitute debuts would have been unwashable for Merteuil and she would have been at best a mere retired courtisane (and thus an outcast in the aristocratic society), but never a well-established marquise as she is supposed to be in the novel.

      1. Well, I suppose the idea is that she successfully conceals her background especially since she’s presumed dead after that drowned girl is fished out of the Seine. Presumably the marquis de Merteuil is going to marry her (and I’m actually somewhat curious to see how that will play out). But even so, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that either Merteuil or Valmont has ever known deprivation.

    2. Having only seen the film version (and Cruel Intentions but obviously when it comes to French court society, that doesn’t count), I found your comment fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing all this extra detail!

      1. Glad you enjoyed it! I’m working on an article on the novel and its various adaptations that should be published in the next couple of weeks, can post a link here.

  7. I do find the recreation of the characters origins rather irritating. The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont are the epitome of indolent and pampered aristocrats who see people as sport and who are rather bored of everything within the sphere of their over-privileged lives. The idea of a courtesan Merteuil and rent boy/gigolo Valmont seems to me almost utterly ridiculous; simply look to Versailles and high societies opinion of the real life Madame du Barry! She was a comtesse by marriage (although admittedly for the King’s convenience) and was Louis XV’s maîtresse-en-titre, yet no one seemed able to forget that she had lowly beginnings ‘on the game’; as so with Merteuil if she had had her start as a prostitute. She would never have had the power and influence she wielded in the book, where she seem so careful of her reputation and position… and so it is very hard to imagine her having been a known sex worker to the higher classes. Nothing within this farfetched plot makes too much sense when you look to the original characterisations within the book or play. In regard to the strange “horizontal bust dart” in Leslie Manville’s red velvet, oddly tasselled robe a la francaise/sack back creation (????). It seems to me that it is a strange hybrid of pattern pieces and darts thrown together randomly and without reason… I am certain I have never seen such a constructed set-up on any such style of gown. Weird! lol.

    1. As I said to Nico above, I think the premise is that Merteuil (once she becomes a marquise, presumably through marriage to the Marquis de Merteuil) keeps her lowly and scandalous origins carefully hidden. Even so, there are so many things wrong with the premise. Like the fact that neither Camille nor Genevieve even bother to make up a last name for her and she’s introduced simply as “Mademoiselle Camille”? This, in a society so fixated on family names that in the novel, none of the characters except Cecile de Volanges (and the servants) even have first names. (I mean, well. Obviously they do. But we don’t know them.)

      1. Thank you, Denise, it wasn’t really noticeable until your comment led me to look more carefully at the photo.

  8. I have got my hair powdered on several events but never had the idea to be without my shirt in that situation. Is there any reason in the series why the costumes are such a mix of different decades and why Valmont’s servant has a shirt of a kid?
    I have so many questions looking at the photos – but maybe it just makes no sense and it would be of no use to actually see the series.

    It’s a shame because some of the wigs and clothes are looking good.

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