PARIS– Jalil Lespert, whose latest movie “Yves Saint Laurent” was just released in the U.S. by The Weinstein Company, is set to direct “Versailles,” an English-language historical drama skein penned by Simon Mirren (“Without a Trace”) and David Wolstencroft (“Spooks”).
Mirren and Wolstencroft will act as showrunners and write five episodes of the series. The pair will be serve as executive producers along with Anne Thomopoulos (“Rome”).
“Louis XIV didn’t just reinvent what it meant to be a King. In building Versailles he created the world’s first global brand. This is a contemporary story of power, betrayal, and family that just so happens to be set in the 17th century,” said Mirren and Wolstencroft.
Lespert will direct the first two episodes of the series. Three other directors will join the show.
“‘Versailles’ will explore the mind of Louis XIV who succeeded in imposing himself as a monarch at a very young age, and we’ll reveal how the trauma he experienced during the Fronde rebellion shaped his psyche and many of the decisions he took as a leader,” said Fabrice de la Patellière, head of French drama and co-productions at Canal Plus.
“We’re not looking to replicate ‘The Tudors’ or ‘Borgia’ and we don’t either want it to be a traditional historical series: it will be rock and roll, vibrant, sexy notably because the court was made up of young people in their 30’s,” claimed de la Patelliere.
Series, comprising 10 one-hour episodes, opens in 1667. Louis is 28 years old and the sole commander of his kingdom following his mother’s death. Burdened by insecurity brought on memories of his childhood trauma, a bitter coup attempt known as ‘the Fronde,’ he creates a trap at Versailles to ensnares and disempowers the nobles who threaten him.
The first season sees Louis evolve from a young King into an absolute Monarch, a 17th century rockstar with the mind of Machiavelli.
The show also delves into Louis XIV’s ambivalent relationship with his younger brother, an openly gay warrior who was known as Monsieur, and the king’s affair with his sister-in-law, Henrietta of England, explained Claude Chelli, head of Capa Drama.
Chelli said the series will also shed light on political schemes and episodes of Louis XIV’s reign which aren’t well known, such as the large probe (coined “La grande enquete) led by the king to expose lawless nobles and strip them from privileges and rights.
“It was a slightly crazy idea to produce an international drama series on Versailles. For the past four years, we’ve been working relentlessly with our partners Canal+ and Zodiak to bring the history of Versailles to life with a modern, innovative and provocative twist. And it is turning real today,” added Chelli.
The series has already sparked the interest of major networks – such as BBC2 and ZDF — and pay TV channels in the U.K. , Germany and in the U.S., among other territories.
Two versions will be available on the market – an edgier one for pay TV channels and a softer one for public broadcasters.
Starting in August, shooting will take place location at the Versailles palace and at the studios of Bry-sur-Marne and will feature lavish decors.
Budgeted at 25 million Euros ($34 million), Versailles is set up as a French-Canadian co-production with 80% of the financing coming from France (split between Zodiak and Capa) and the remaining from Canada via Incendo. Post-production, notably the visual effects, will be done in Canada.
Key crew includes set designer Katia Wyszkop, whose credits include Benoît Jacquot’s “Farewell, My Queen.”
The cast will soon be announced and will comprise mostly British or North American actors, said de la Patelliere, who added that the critical and commercial success of original programming like the mini-series “Carlos,” “Braquo” and most recently “The Returned” has given the paybox credibility to take on highly ambitious projects and international partners.
Capa Drama, which is owned by Fabrie Larue’s Newen, is exec producing with Zodiak France.
Zodiak Rights has a solid track record is selling high-profile drama series, such “The Returned and” “Braquo.”
“Like ‘Occupied’ (Joe Nesbo’s dystopian political thriller), ‘Versailles’ reflects Zodiak’s ambition to produce premium international drama series for the international market,” said Gaspard de Chavagnac, head of Zodiak France.